The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon

Sachi Sri Kantha
[28 June 2002]

Why is He ‘Loved’ by the Tamils?

The Most Abused Four-Letter Word

In my opinion, the most abused four-letter word in English is not the F-word rhyming with ‘luck’, but the L-word ‘love’. The F-word is abused only by the vocabulary-challenged comics and teenagers with glands bubbling with sex hormones. Contrastingly, the word ‘love’ is abused not only by teenagers, but also by creeps of all sorts – including the malcontented clergy of all denominations, baby-kissing politicians, toady journalists, scheming spouses and slothful speechwriters.

That love is universal to all cultures is an unchallenged fact. But the pointer that markers (or tags) of love are culture-specific is routinely overlooked. While an open expression of love is permissible in the Las Vegas or London airports, the same act would raise eyebrows and scorn in Chennai or Tehran airports. Why I mention this is to indicate the ignorance shown by foreign journalists in evaluating whether Pirabhakaran is loved or not by Tamils in Eelam and elsewhere. To cite an example, the unsigned editorialist of the Economist magazine began an editorial, published before the 2000 general election in Sri Lanka, with the following sentence:

“In Northern Sri Lanka, the secessionist Tamil Tigers are feared and even respected, but seldom loved.” [Economist, London, Oct.7, 2000; pp.19-20]

What was not mentioned is how did he measure the ‘love’ among the Eelam Tamils for Pirabhakaran? It cannot be measured that easily by a fly-by night, non-Tamil speaking journalist, by asking the residents of Jaffna through a translator-interpreter whether they ‘love’ the Tamil Tigers. Even if that particular journalist gathered some ‘negative answers’ to his question from the Eelam residents, unless he or she is a behavioral-psychologist or cultural-anthropologist, the accuracy and validity of the answers given to strangers would be of dubious quality. To comprehend how love is expressed and shared by Tamil culture, one should study it in depth – investing time, money and energy. Also wanted for this exercise is an unbiased heart, which seems distinctly lacking in the unsigned pieces published in the Economist magazine. Luckily for Tamils, there exists one study by Margaret Trawick, the professor of social anthropology at the Massey University, New Zealand, who had endured to investigate how love is expressed among the 20th century Tamils.

In this chapter, I will first identify the culture-specific markers for love in Tamil culture so that one can assess how much Pirabhakaran is loved in more objective terms rather than the subjective, half-baked pronouncements of culturally blind-folded journalists who dominate the international newsmedia. Secondly, I will explain why Pirabhakaran is loved by the Tamils.

Margaret Trawick’s Study on Tamil Love

In 1993, I reviewed Margaret Trawick’s work, Notes on Love in a Tamil Family (1990) for the Tamil Nation monthly [May 1993]. I provide excerpts from this review below.

“According to the author, for Tamils, anpu (as Tamils know ‘love’ in a broader sense) has the following nine properties.

1.     containment (adakkam): Open expression of love is to be restrained, even if it is mother love. Tamils also do not express love among opposite sexes openly.

2.     habit (pazhakkam): Attachment, or a sense of oneness with a person or thing or activity, grows slowly, by habituation.

3.     harshness and cruelty (kadumai and kodumai): Physical affection for children is expressed not through caresses but roughly, in the form of painful pinches, slaps and tweaks. The movie song, ‘Adikkira kai thaan Anaikkum; Anaikkira kai thaan adikkum’ (Hitting hand will hold, and holding hand will hit) expresses this sentiment beautifully.

4.     dirtiness (azhukku): ‘Defiance of rules or purity conveyed a message of union and equality and was a way of teaching children and onlookers where love was’, tells the author. This is exemplified by mother’s care of baby’s bodily excretions and the host’s cleaning of guest’s plate of food (echchil).

5.     humility (panivu): Love is implicated in expressions of humility and patience (porumai, the strength to sustain and endure).

6.     poverty and simplicity (ezhumai and elimai): Self renunciation of luxury (such as fancy clothes and jewellery) for the cause of a loved one, as expressed in sentiments like, ‘I don’t want new clothes…as long as you are sick’.

7.     servitude (adimai): Illustrated as the servant of God, who receives the highest respect among the civilians. Elimination of the boastful ‘I’ (Naan) and substituting with the self deprecating ‘this slave’ (Adiyen), exemplified by Tamil saints of the past.

8.     opposition and reversal (ethirttal and puratchi): Characterized by the use of very intimate suffix, -di (for girl) and –da (for boy) among family members and close pals. When these intimate forms of address are used by acquaintances or strangers, they become derogatory.

9.     mingling and confusion (kalattal and mayakkam): Love erases distinction completely and mingle everyone, typified by the adage, ‘We are all one’ (Onrae kulam – Oruvane Thevan). In addition, love leads to dizziness, confusion, intoxication and delusion (mayakkam).

All these nine cultural markers of Tamil love are indicated in the love Tamils have shown for Pirabhakaran.

1.     containment: One cannot ask a Tamil, like in Gallup-poll, to find out whether he or she loves Pirabhakaran or not. Prudent Tamils will not answer in the affirmative. It is a very private issue, like what the Americans consider the details of their individual paychecks.

2.     habit: Remember that in the first 10 years of Tamil militancy (circa 1975-1985), there were many who competed for the leadership role with Pirabhakaran. Some who were even trained in the PLO camps and Israeli camps. They only turned out to be mercenaries (for the arms of Sri Lankan and Indian governments) and later metamorphosed into parliamentary seat-warmers. Tamils came to accept Pirabhakaran, only after he proved his mettle. Cynics may quip that Pirabhakaran physically eliminated his rivals to reach the pinnacle. But Eelam Tamils also came to be convinced that his rivals for leadership had self-destructed themselves by ill-judgments, and also by deviating from the path of ‘Eelam’ for which they had pledged to work. It is not an exaggeration to reiterate that among the 60 plus million Tamils living today, considering the impossibility of the aim of establishing an army, none had followed the Edison formula for success (constituting three simple elements: hard work, common sense and ‘stick-to-it’iveness spirit) diligently like Pirabhakaran for the past 25 years. Pirabhakaran also shares some of Edison’s peculiar background in that he was a ‘semi-literate’ in the fool’s world of literacy, boasting of prefixes ‘Oxford’, ‘Harvard’ and ‘Sorbonne’ linked by a hyphen to the word ‘educated’, or prefixes ‘Sandhurst’ and ‘West Point’ linked by a hyphen to the word ‘trained’.

3.     harshness and cruelty: Loving Pirabhakaran was (and is) no bed of roses. The harshness and cruelty were absorbed as part of the package, for the pride his movement has delivered to the Tamils.

4.     dirtiness: Of course, that Pirabhakaran was not from the dominant Hindu Vellala caste has been accepted by the Tamils. The ‘dirtiness’ in the Brahminical world view has been completely ignored.

5.     humility: The pain of routine ridicule, delivered from the political pulpit and press desks in Colombo, Chennai, Washington DC and London, for loving Pirabhakaran is tolerated by Tamils with humility.

6.     poverty and simplicity: With whatever scale one measures the quality of life in Eelam during the past two decades, an apparent economic poverty and simplicity is visible in the places where Pirabhakaran is loved. Still the Eelam Tamils endure this hardship for love of Pirabhakaran and his ideological goal.

7.     servitude: His adversaries, like the operatives of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), may ridicule the decorating terms such as ‘Suriyathevan’ and other word-plays, but Tamils who love Pirabhakaran serve him in various fronts – in his army, and as support cast under much hardship. Servitude is a cultural marker in Tamil love, which cannot be understood by culture-challenged academics, journalists and paid report-writers.

8.     opposition and reversal: This cultural marker doesn’t need explanation, since there was opposition to Pirabhakaran for his methods, especially among the older generation. The opposition was mainly due to generational conflict, who were familiar with the Gandhian path of non-violence and couldn’t grasp the post-Gandhian scenario that gun holders dictate terms in global politics.

9.     mingling and confusion: This cultural marker for love among Tamils, towards Pirabhakaran, is self-explanatory if one observes the existing pattern in Tamil Nadu.

To continue my review of Margaret Trawick’s book,

“The author also observes, ‘Within the nuclear family, four relationships seemed to be especially important to the Tamil people whom I knew. These wee the mother-daughter, father-son, husband-wife, and brother-sister relationships.’ The love links between these four relationships are identified the author as follows:

‘A man sees his son as a continuation of himself: A woman sees herself as a continuation of her mother; The bond between brother and sister is strong but must be denied; The bond between husband and wife is conflictual but difficult to sever.’

As an example for the sentiments of sibling love among Tamils, the author has presented in the book, the following duet:

You were born to win many battles
With your elephants and armies
You were born to marry your aunt’s daughter
And live in joyful love!

Shall I tell you know my brother
brought me up like a darling daughter,
sheltered me under his wing?
Shall I tell you of the unimaginable
Misfortune which separated us?

We were born together,
Joined like the eye and the pupil,
Like the pupil and the image within!
Though the earth and sea and sky
Should come to an end,
We shall not forget our love,
Nothing can break our bond!’

This duet is none other than an English translation of that touching lullaby, ‘Malarnthum malaraatha paathi malar pola’, penned by poet Kannadasan (whose name is not mentioned in the book!) for the hit movie, Pasa Malar. The author has stated that this particular movie, although released in the early 1960s, still enjoy mass appeal among the Tamils, for extolling the sentiments of sibling love. Of course, this lullaby duet of Kannadasan should be enjoyed in the original (not presented in the book) since translation does not do merit to the beauty and cadence of the poet’s choice of Tamil words in expressing sibling love. Kannadasan also made an elegant use of the very intimate suffix, -da (for boy) to express intimacy and love, in this lullaby. In original (undoubtedly, a vintage Kannadasan), the cited duet reads like this:

Yaanai padai kondu Chenai pala venru
Aala piranthaayada – Puvi aala piranthaayada
Aththai mahalai manam kondu ilamai vazhi kandu
Vaazha piranthaayada

Sirahil enai moodi arumai mahal pole
Valartha kathai sollava
Kanavil ninaiyaatha kaalam idai vanthu
Piriththa kathai sollava

Kannin mani pola maniyil nizhal pola
kalanthu piranthomada

Intha mannum kadal vaanum
Marainthu mudinthaalum
Marakka mudiyaathada – Uravai
Pirikka mudiyaathada

Any Tamil who has siblings of opposite sex feel soothed by the intimacy and love when he or she hums the lines of this wonderful and powerful lullaby, and for Tamil siblings of any age who live separated by current national boundaries, these lines will bring tears in their eyes from the reminiscences of events shared in love.

Now, the love shown for Pirabhakaran by his thousands of cadres can be easily explained by the lines of this particular lullaby of Kannadasan extolling sibling love. Even the lines, Yaanai padai kondu Chenai pala venru – Aala piranthaayada, in the lullaby appears to confirm the blessings Pirabhakaran has received from Providence. Unless those non-Tamil sociologists, journalists, quasi human rights activists and politicians who fault Pirabhakaran for ‘brainwashing’ young Tamil teenagers dip in the sentimental pool extolled by Kannadasan in the Tamil original, they will miss comprehending why Pirabhakaran is loved, despite all the bad mouthing he is served with.

Why Pirabhakaran is loved by Tamils?

In a monthly column I wrote to the Tamil Nation (Nov.15, 1992) under my nom-de-plume C.P.Goliard, I had hinted the answers for this question. Thus, it is more than appropriate I reproduce this column in entirety, though I have not mentioned the name Pirabhakaran in it. Here it is, as it appeared ten years ago. I have not changed the time markers within the text.

The Status of the Tamil Language

“It was Winston Churchill who once said, ‘The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see’. So, to learn the future status of Tamil language, one should study its past. This column summarises some salient features of the past history of Tamils till 1900.

Tamil is the leading member of the Dravidian family of languages, which consists of over 20 languages spoken traditionally in the Indian subcontinent. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1991), authored by David Crystal, observes that, ‘Tamil has the oldest written records of this family, dating from the 3rd century BC, and scholars believe, it to be close to the ancestor language, known as Proto-Dravidian. But, despite the historical records and associated reconstruction, there is little agreement about the origins of the language, or its speakers. One tradition speaks of migration from land to the south, now submerged; other views suggest a movement from Asia, via the north-west, perhaps around 4,000 BC…There is, however, strong support for the view that Dravidian languages were once spoken in the north of India, and were gradually displaced by the arrival of the Indo-European invaders.’

Aramaic and Tamil

Recently, the monthly magazine The Middle East (Aug.1991) reported that Aramaic, the language in which Jesus would have preached to his followers two millennia ago, is on the verge of extinction. Therefore, it is appropriate to compare the past development of Aramaic and Tamil simultaneously. In terms of generational scale, one millennium consists of only 40 generations (In 25 years, one generation produces its progeny to continue the cultural traditions.) Therefore, only 80 generations separate us from the time of Jesus and the Apostles.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (15th Ed, 1990), Aramaic language was the lingua franca of the Near East around 500 BC (when Buddha was reforming Hinduism in India). The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds as well as portions of the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic. It had its greatest influence in the Middle East culture from circa 300 BC until circa AD 650, and was supplanted by Arabic. Now, the western dialect of Aramaic is spoken by only 6,000-odd residents of a mountain village Maaloula, which lies 50 km north of Damascus, Syria. The eastern dialect of Aramaic survives in a few villages of Iraq, southern Turkey and the southwestern Soviet Union.

Two millennia ago, the world population was around 250 million. It is an irony that though the message of Jesus Christ had spread all over the world in multitude of languages, the mother tongue of the Messiah is now struggling to survive. The Tamil language was relatively lucky to have strong vitality for the past 2,000 years. It has been estimated that at the time of Jesus, India had a population of about 100 million. The Tamil-speaking population in India and Eelam would have been in the range of 8-10 million, two millennia ago. Within 80 generations, Tamil continue to survive, but Aramaic is now on the verge of extinction. How did this happen?

Four ‘C’ Powers

I can postulate the influence of four ‘C’ powers, which enabled Tamil to live and Aramaic to struggle for survival. These are, cerebral (cultural) power, commercial power, crown (and civil) power and combat power. It is the combination of these four powers which had allowed the Tamil language to survive till now. Let me illustrate the significant roles of these four ‘C’ powers briefly.

Cerebral (cultural) power

The cerebral power of approximately 1,000 intellectuals at the most, during the past 80 generations, was influential in elevating Tamil into a culturally rich language. The authors of Tolkappiyam, eight anthologies of secular poetry of the sangam period and Tirukkural (all written between the 1st and 4th century AD), the religious saints collectively called 63 Nayanars, great poets of merit (Ilanko, Kamban and Auvayar), goliards (Kavi Kalameham and Arumuga Navalar), composers (Arunagirinathar, Arunasala Kavirayar and Gopalakrishna Bharathy), folk physicians collectively named Chittars and religious hymnodists (Pattinattar, Thayumanavar and Ramalinga Swamigal) produced voluminous literary material to enrich the Tamil language.

Commercial power

Tamils had indulged in commerce with other nations from time immemorial. Till 500 years ago, marine navigation has been one of the strong points which symbolized the Tamil commercial power and combat power. Prof. Walter Wallbank observed in his book, A Short History of India and Pakistan (1958), ‘In general, Tamil civilization was very advanced, based as it was on a flourishing sea trade, Tamil rulers, especially the Cholas, had great fleets which sailed to Ceylon, Burma, Java and even the Far East. In 45 AD, the use of the monsoon in navigation had been discovered and, taking advantage of these prevailing winds, ships could now cross the Arabian Sea instead of hugging the coast. The trade of Tamil Land with Rome was particularly active, as Europe greatly prized the spices, perfumes, precious stones and textiles of south India. Several Roman colonies were set up in Tamil Land, and it has been estimated that the annual drain from Rome to India approximated 4 million dollars.”

Crown (and Civil) Power

Jawarhalal Nehru, in his Glimpses of World History, makes reference to the crown (and civil) power Tamils enjoyed between the 3rd century AD and the end of 12th century. Almost 60 years ago, in a letter dated June 23, 1932, to daughter Indira, Nehru wrote,

‘Farther south and east in India lay the Tamil country. Here from the 3rd century to the 9th, for about 600 years, the Pallavas ruled…it was these Pallavas who sent out colonizing expeditions to Malaysia and the Eastern Islands. The capital of the Pallava state was Kanchi or Conjeevaram, a beautiful city then and even now remarkable for its wise town-planning.

The Pallavas give place to the aggressive Cholas early in the 10th century. I have told you something of the Chola Empire of Rajaraja and Rajendra, who built great fleets and went conquering to Ceylon, Burma and Bengal. More interesting is the information we have of the elective village panchayat system they had. This system was built up from below, village unions electing many committees to look after various kinds of work, and also electing district unions. Several districts formed a province.’

Then, Nehru describes about the rise of ‘Pandya kingdom, with Madura for its capital and Kayal as its port. A famous traveler from Venice, Marco Polo, visited Kayal, the port, twice in 1288 and in 1293. He describes the town as a great and noble city, full of ships from Arabia and China, and humming with business.’

Combat Power

The combat power, which had been inter-twined with the crown power and commercial power, hardly needs further description. The combat history of the Pallava, Chola and Pandya dynasties has been recorded by many historians, including Nehru.

In the letter quoted above, Nehru succinctly summarized the Tamil combat power in one paragraph. ‘The Tamil Pallavas rise on the east coast and the south and for a very long period they hold sway. They colonize in Malaysia. After 600 years of rule, they give place to the Cholas, who conquer distant lands and sweep the seas with their navies. Three hundred years later they retire from the scene, and the Pandyan kingdom emerges into prominence, and the city of Madura becomes a centre of culture and Kayal a great and busy port in touch with distant countries.’

Nehru also infers another interesting point from the observation recorded by Marco Polo on the medieval Tamil Nadu. The chronicler from Venice had written about the imports of large number of horses into south India by sea from Arabia and Persia (currently Iran). Nehru noted, ‘It is said that one of the reasons why the Muslim invaders of India were better fighters was their possession of the better horses. The best horse-breeding grounds in Asia were under their control.’ This suggests that the medieval Tamil military strategists were preparing themselves to stop the Muslim invasion spreading towards south India, at the time of Marco Polo’s visit.

The Past 500 Years

Well, the history of past five centuries (only 20 generations) show the decline of crown power, combat power and commercial power among the Tamils in Tamil Nadu and Eelam. Only the cerebral power sustained the Tamil language to its current status. The languages which were relatively late entrants to the cultural world such as English, French, Spanish and Arabic gained elevated status because those who spoke these languages began to dominate the world by crown power, commercial power and combat power.”

The greatness in Pirabhakaran is that he dreamt and established an army, to reassert the combat power of Tamils, and thereby regain the crown (and civil) power of Tamils. While tens of thousands of other 60 million plus Tamils had concentrated only on achieving some cerebral power to gain status (and I am one typical example of this group), only Pirabhakaran thought of establishing the combat power for Tamils. By this, Pirabhakaran brought the mind-set of the Tamil ethnics from the ‘bullock-cart’ age of the 19th century to at least the ‘bullet-train’ age of the 20th century. With all due respect to Mahatma Gandhi, whether one likes it or not, guns and bullets have served well in gaining independence, freedom and status from the oppressors. Though handicapped in textbook education, Pirabhakaran chose the paths of Washington and Mao rather than Gandhi to liberate the homeland of Eelam Tamils. This is why Pirabhakaran is loved by Tamils.

Mahindapala’s Angle on Pirabhakaran’s ‘greatest achievement’

For over 10 years, H.L.D. Mahindapala remains as the most virulent critic of Pirabhakaran. His bias in twisting the history of Ceylon to suit his Sinhala-Buddhist blinders in any debate eliminates him as an impartial analyst of multi-cultural Ceylon. While taking into account these deficiencies, I still like to present his angle on Pirabhakaran’s ‘greatest achievement’, since the issue he focuses is one which had been an Achilles’ Heel for Eelam Tamils.

In a debate on caste system he engaged with me in 1996, Mahindapala built up a case that the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act, 1957 of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike “stands as a monumental landmark not only to the liberal spirit of the Sinhalese but also to the enlightened and pioneering efforts of reforming the dismal and the discriminatory legacy left behind by five centuries of colonial rulers.” [Lanka Guardian, March 15, 1996, pp.3-5]

Mahindapala continued,

“However, the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act ran into serious obstacles laid by the all-powerful upper-caste in Jaffna to block its implementation. Undeniably, the greatest achievement of Mr.Prabhakaran is in the dismantling of the obscene and the oppressive caste system in Jaffna that dehumanized Jaffna society since the coming of the Dutch. The act of Tamil youths taking up arms was a double-edged weapon – (1) against the Sinhalese, and (2) against the upper-caste Tamils of Jaffna who have been their oppressors for generations…” [ibid]

In a subsequent passage, Mahindapala observed,

“…The two-pronged machinations of the Jaffna upper-caste to retain their traditional supremacy were directed simultaneously against (1) the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist governments’ and (2) their own sub-castes. They held on to their precarious positions by pitting (2) against (1). Naturally, they resented any outside interference that would threaten their prestige, position and power in Jaffna. This point is illustrated amply in the obstructionist tactics of the Chelvanayakams and Ponnambalams to the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act…” [ibid]

Mahindapala is an obnoxious polemicist, afflicted with amnesia. If the Social Disabilities Act of 1957 passed by the padre Bandaranaike Cabinet was such a boon to the low-caste Tamils in Jaffna, how come the Sri Lankan armed forces which came directly under the purview of widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike failed to notice it? Why the Kandyan Govigama Buddhists (KGB in short) initiated a policy of ethnic cleansing in the island’s armed forces since 1962, which in turn facilitated the rise of Pirabhakaran’s army? I will deal with Mahindapala’s writings in a separate essay, so as not to dilute the focus of this series.

Bruce Hoffman’s erroneous perceptions on Pirabhakaran and LTTE

The answer to the question ‘Why Pirabhakaran is loved by the Eelam Tamils’ is that he internationalized the Eelam Tamil campaign for freedom and independence, unlike anyone who preceded him as Tamil leaders. The path he took to promote his cause was untouched by the Tamils for the past 500 years. He sharpened the ‘combat power’ of Tamils, which had been blunted by the manacles of casteism.

This point surfaces in an article entitled ‘A Nasty Business’, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine of January 2002. The author of this article is Bruce Hoffman, who is identified in the magazine as ‘a terrorism analyst at the Rand Corporation’. For those who are unaware, I wish to note that the Rand Corporation has extensive links with the Pentagon. It is also not improper to infer that Bruce Hoffman’s links to the Israeli agents are not weak. From his descriptions, he appears to be one of the American advisors who have availed their expertise to the Sri Lankan armed forces (since the days of Lalith Athulathmudali) to neutralize Pirabhakaran. Thus, his sanitized version of a project report should be of considerable interest to Eelam Tamils.

Some caveat is needed before I provide Hoffman’s impressions in length. On superficial reading, his description of his experience in Colombo presents an uncomplimentary picture of the Tamil Tigers. Thus, the readers are advised first to ignore the pejorative remarks on LTTE, relating to the reported terrorist acts and assassinations, since Hoffman uses non-confirming words and phrases like, ‘arguably’, ‘believed to be’ and ‘believed to have’. Secondly, readers should focus on the profile of a Sri Lankan army officer, identified with the pseudonym Thomas. Undoubtedly, Thomas is a Sinhalese and he cannot be a poster-guy to the professional wing of the maligned Sri Lankan armed forces. This what Hoffman had observed:

“…I learned this some years ago, on a research trip to Sri Lanka. The setting – a swank oceanfront hotel in Colombo, a refreshingly cool breeze coming off the ocean, a magnificent sunset on the horizon – could not have been further removed from the carnage and destruction that have afflicted that island country for the past eighteen years and have claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people. Arrayed against the democratically elected Sri Lankan government and its armed forces [Note by Sri Kantha: Without any criticism, Hoffman had glossed over the emaciated form of Sri Lankan democracy and the racially segregated army akin to the pre-World War II American army.] is perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient terrorist organization-cum-insurgent force in the world today: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known also by the acronym LTTE or simply as the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers are unique in the annals of terrorism and arguably eclipse even bin Laden’s al Qaeda in professionalism, capability, and determination. They are believed to be the first nonstate group in history to stage a chemical-weapons attack when they deployed poison gas in a 1990 assault on a Sri Lankan military bases – some five years before the nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the apocalyptic Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. Of greater relevance, perhaps, is the fact that at least a decade before the seaborne attack on the USS Cole, in Aden harbor, the LTTE’s special suicide maritime unit, the Sea Tigers, had perfected the same tactics against the Sri Lankan navy. Moreover, the Tamil Tigers are believed to have developed their own embryonic air capability – designed to carry out attacks similar to those of September 11 (though with much smaller, noncommercial aircraft). The most feared Tiger unit, however, is the Black Tigers – the suicide cadre composed of the group’s best-trained, most battle-hardened, and most zealous fighters. A partial list of their operations includes the assassination of the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at a campaign stop in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in 1991; the assassination of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993; the assassination of the presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake, which also claimed the lives of fifty-four bystanders and injured about one hundred more, in 1994; the suicide truck bombing of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in 1996, which killed eighty-six people and wounded 1,400 others; and the attempt on the life of the current President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, in December of 1999. The powerful and much venerated leader of the LTTE is Velupillai Prabhakaran, who, like bin Laden, exercises a charismatic influence over his fighters. The Battle of Algiers is said to be one of Prabhakaran’s favorite films.” [Note by Sri Kantha: For balance, Hoffman should have provided “a partial list of operations” carried out under the orders of his identified ‘victims’ Rajiv Gandhi, Premadasa, Dissanayake and Kumaratunga, which had caused the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of Eelam Tamils since 1981. But he cannot do it for practical reasons, since he had authored this paragraph to project a cuddly image of his Sri Lankan benefactors, and to show the gullible readers of the Atlantic Monthly that his benefactors were fighting a terrorist force on behalf of the ‘democratically elected Sri Lankan government’.]

Hoffman’s description of the action of a former Sri Lankan army officer Thomas, then followed in the next paragraph:

“I sat in that swank hotel drinking tea with a much decorated, battle-hardened Sri Lankan army officer charged with fighting the LTTE and protecting the lives of Colombo’s citizens. I cannot use his real name, so I will call him Thomas. However, I had been told before our meeting, by the mutual friend – a former Sri Lankan intelligence officer who had also long fought the LTTE – who introduced us (and was present at our meeting), that Thomas had another name, one better known to his friends and enemies alike: Terminator. My friend explained how Thomas had acquired his sobriquet; it actually owed less to Arnold Schwarzenegger than to the merciless way in which he discharged his duties as an intelligence officer. This became clear to me during our conversation. ‘By going through the process of laws’, Thomas patiently explained, as a parent or a teacher might speak to a bright yet uncomprehending child, ‘you cannot fight terrorism’. Terrorism, he believed, could be fought only by thoroughly ‘terrorizing’ the terrorists – that is, inflicting on them the same pain that they inflict on the innocent. Thomas had little confidence that I understood what he was saying. I was an academic, he said, with no actual experience of the life-and-death choices and the immense responsibility borne by those charged with protecting society from attack. Accordingly, he would give me an example of the split-second decisions he was called on to make. At the time, Colombo was on ‘code red’ emergency status, because of intelligence that the LTTE was planning to embark on a campaign of bombing public gathering places and other civilian targets. Thomas’s unit had apprehended three terrorists who, it suspected, [Note by Sri Kantha: This should be noted that Thomas’s unit had just suspected! – to comprehend the demented mind of Thomas and what he did subsequently on his suspicion.] had recently planted somewhere in the city a bomb that was then ticking away, the minutes counting down to catastrophe. The three men were brought before Thomas. He asked them where the bomb was. The terrorists – highly dedicated and steeled to resist interrogation – remained silent. Thomas asked the question again, advising them that if they did not tell him what he wanted to know, he would kill them. They were unmoved. So Thomas took his pistol from his gun belt, pointed it at the forehead of one of them, and shot him dead. The other two, he said, talked immediately; the bomb, which had been placed in a crowded railway station and set to explode during the evening rush hour, was found and defused, and countless lives were saved. On other occasions, Thomas said, similarly recalcitrant terrorists were brought before him. It was not surprising, he said, that they initially refused to talk; they were schooled to withstand harsh questioning and coersive pressure. No matter: a few drops of gasoline flicked into a plastic bag that is then placed over a terrorist’s head and cinched tight around his neck with a web belt very quickly prompts a full explanation of the details of any planned attack.

I was looking pale and feeling a bit shaken as waiters in starched white jackets smartly cleared the china teapot and cups from the table, and Thomas rose to bid us good-bye and return to his work. He hadn’t exulted in his explanations or revealed any joy or even a hint of pleasure in what he had to do. He had spoken throughout in a measured, somber, even reverential tone. He did not appear to be a sadist, or even manifestly homicidal. (And not a year has passed since our meeting when Thomas has failed to send me an unusually kind Christmas card.)… [Atlantic Monthly, Jan.2002; pp.49-52]

The above description by Hoffman on Pirabhakaran and LTTE has to be taken in the spirit it was written. This American ‘expert’ was a paid consultant to the Sri Lankan armed forces and he had presented his impressions to the American readership of the Atlantic Monthly, for the payment he and his employer (Rand Corporation) received. Nevertheless, he also had exposed the activities of sick-minded terrorists like Thomas, though Hoffman states imprudently that “He [Thomas, that is] did not appear to be a sadist, or even manifestly homicidal.” From the information provided by Hoffman, I assembled the following:

1.     Hoffman had visited Colombo “some years ago”, and he mentions finally that “Not a year has passed since our meeting when Thomas has failed to send me an unusually kind Christmas card.” Literally this means, some years have passed by. Could it be that Hoffman has not met this Thomas again?

2.     LTTE cadres involved in such high-profile operations, if they are caught, are known to swallow the cyanide capsules. Nothing is mentioned about any one of the three suspects in the story trying to ingest cyanide, or that the interrogators had successfully prevented such ingestion.

3.     Thus, Thomas may have provided a composite story linking the shooting of one innocent suspect in point blank, and another two being interrogated for planting a bomb in Colombo. Other than the point-blank shooting, the purported ‘success’ of Thomas could even be a fib to impress the American guest, since other corroborating details are missing. This is important, since in the previous paragraph, Hoffman specifically lists the ‘terrorist acts of LTTE.’ Then, one wonders why he failed to ask Thomas ‘When this particular terrorist act of ‘bomb in a crowded railway station’ during rush hour was averted? Hoffman also does not inform the readers whether how he confirmed the success of Thomas independently.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Eelam Tamils know for the past three decades that Pirabhakaran emerged from the generation of Eelam Tamils who were at the receiving end of the atrocities of the likes of Thomas and his predecessors. Pirabhakaran and LTTE cadres have been repeatedly criticized for their zeal of puritan ethic, by those who spuriously cloak themselves with the garb of ‘human rights’ and as ‘analysts of terrorism’. But this puritan ethic is nothing different from the motto of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which states Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.) It is a pity that only the culture-challenged journalists, including those who contribute to the magazines like Economist and the Atlantic Monthly cannot comprehend it. I use the term ‘culture-challenged’ in double contexts. The contributors whom I have cited in this chapter are ‘culture-challenged’ in both American and Tamil history. (Continued).