Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Printer-Friendly Version

Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims: Cultural Genocide or Battlefield Strategy?

by A.R.M.Imtiyaz, Ph.D.  

I believe that the Tamil struggle should win the support of Muslims. I also believe that if the Tamil forces move on the right path, Muslims would find no reason to deny the Tamil struggle for justice.    

I thought I should drop some lines on Dr. Sachi Sri Kantha’s observations on the Muslim expulsion from Jaffna. First of all, let me thank Dr.Sachi for bringing out the right numbers of Muslims who were evicted forcefully by the LTTE in October 1990. Leading Muslim opinionmakers, without any research, simply buy some popular ideas/myths that put the number of Muslims from the North affected by the LTTE's action as high as 75,000. I am really indebted to Dr. Sachi for his fascinating efforts to bring the truth out at the right time on this number game.     

However, as a person who truthfully supports Tamil-Muslim unity and harmony, I was really disheartened and disturbed to read the article of Dr.Sachi which tries to justify the LTTE’s most blunt and brutal decision on the Jaffna Muslims, who at one time placed their sympathy and support on the Tamil struggle against the state.  

It is clear that Dr.Sachi is indirectly attempting to develop a 'safe-theory' in the context of security consciousness to justify what I call the LTTE’s cultural genocide** against the Muslims of the North of Sri Lanka. There are a few Tamil nationalistic theories to justify the Muslim expulsion.  All of them, one way or another, strive hard to offer a rosy explanation for this cultural genocide. For Dr.Sachi and other Tamil nationalists, “expulsion of Jaffna Muslims was simply a battlefield strategy to cause inconvenience to the political leaders (both Sinhalese and Muslims) of Colombo.” (

But, as reality proves, the losers of this hideous cultural genocide are the poor Muslim masses, and the clear winners are the Muslim elites and politicians who profit from the poor Muslims' sufferings.  Moreover, the LTTE’s harsh decision on the (Jaffna) Muslims NOT ONLY benefited Muslims nationalists who now employ symbolic emotions to win Muslim votes, but also strongly assisted Muslims to lose their trust in the Tamil struggle.  

In ethnically divided societies, the marginalized minority and its politico-military movement need to adopt some rational strategies to win over other oppressed groups or minorities. This would help the oppressed groups and minorities extend their political and moral support base. In point of fact, the state itself in ethnically divided societies would employ all form of strategies to divide the minorities to weaken their struggle. The state generally succeeds in its mission to divide the groups and ethnic minorities, not because the state is rich in its rationale, but because the ethnic leadership proves unable to challenge the state's hoaxes. The consequence is ethnic disharmony.  

It seems many Tamil nationalists believe that Muslims, who are less than 2%-5% of the entire military structure in Sri Lanka, join the security forces not just simply because of their desire to serve the state or - what some ethnic Tamils accept as the main motivation - to work in the “operational areas” - occupied Tamil Eelam - against the LTTE, which fights for the political and social emancipation of the Tamils who are marginalized by the Sinhala state and institutions. As a matter of fact, like many Sinhalese youth who join the security forces just to fill their stomachs, some Muslims also join just to support themselves and their families. I think (poor) people desire to join the security forces not because of their loyalty to the nation state, but because they think this would at least ease their economic burdens. [In most countries without a universal draft, it is the poor who constitute the bulk of the armed forces -- Editor] Thus, it would be an intellectual decay and moral corruption if the Tamil nationalists would interpret differently these Muslims' decision to join the security forces.  

For some Tamil nationalists, another strong concern is the establishment of Muslim village forces in the war-torn NorthEast, particularly in the East. I think the nationalists' concern on this issue is reasonable. I am aware of the village forces' infamous role in the violence in the east against innocent Tamils, including women, and their active collaboration with what Tamils call Sinhalese-Buddhist dominated forces.  

But reasonable thinking Tamils at least need to ask why Muslims decided to be the 'sixth force' of the Sri Lanka security forces. The simple answer is Muslims' fear of the Tamil forces that show no mercy to the northeast Muslims.    

I do not offer any room to justify those Muslim elements' brutality, and raise no sympathy at their collabrative actions with the security forces against the Tamils.  However, my point is that these actions are a product of fear which has been triggered by the Tamil forces' irrational attitudes towards the poor Muslims. This fear started from the time of the moderate Ponnamabalam, who challenged the existence of a Muslim ethnicity and their right to enjoy political power in the early British Raj, and who successfully defended Sinhalese elites that initiated Sri Lanka’s very first high profile ethnic violence against the Muslims in 1915, and continued with militant Prabhakaran, whose movement's involvement in the cultural genocide in 1990 for strategic military purposes, as Dr. Sachi ardently argues, and other acts against the Muslims before and after1990.

Tamil nationalists rationalize their violent uprising because they think their right to exist and to maintain their Tamil identify is severely challenged by the Sinhala elites' and politicians' electoral excesses.  If the Tamils justify their violent mobilization on the basis of security and their fear of the Sinhalese, then, what is wrong if the Muslims do the same because of the same fear they have of Tamil domination? Mobilization, in political psychological language, generally develops because of fear.

A recent psychological study argues that vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness influence a group's thinking and leads to interpersonal and intergroup conflict (Eidelson, R. J., & Eidelson, J. I., 2003, "Dangerous ideas: Five beliefs that propel groups toward conflict." American Psychologist, 58, 182-192).  

Therefore, Tamil forces need to change their attitudes and thinking toward Muslims, who now increasingly consider that they are oppressed by both the Tamil and Sinhalese forces. Tamil forces, I mean the LTTE, need to openly and sincerely apologize to the Muslim masses. They must apologize, not for their leadership, but for the historical blunder they made in 1990 both in Jaffna and the Eastern Province. This step, I would say, would help to eliminate the current cultural impediment between the Tamil and Muslims and, undoubtedly, would help to rebuild Muslim trust in Tamils.   

If the Tamil forces continue their current insalubrious policies and attitudes (I hope I would prove wrong), but Muslims NOT ONLY would beg off their trust in the leading Tamil leadership, but also would become admirers of both the Sinhala ruling elites and the Muslim political leadership, which are active to manipulate matters for their own electoral good.

** A recent study on ethnic cleansing argues that ethnic cleaning can also be termed cultural genocide if the affected  community feels it has lost its cultural and social identity due to the forceful expulsion. The term 'genocide' is generally used to describe ethnic massacre (i.e. Rwanda in 1994). The author of the recent study argues that expulsion or ethnic cleansing can be coined cultural genocide if the above-mentioned factor plays a major role in the entire fate of the community.