Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Radhika Coomaraswamy and McGill University Must be Sued for Hate Speech

by Raveen Satkurunathan

[Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy is the head of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission and received a human rights award in Canada on November 8, 2005. The speech can be viewed at ]

For starters let's read the following: "The [Jewish] community appears to have lost its moral anchor, where violence, brutality and ruthlessness are explained and justified. People often take pride in how their community is represented both nationally and internationally. The [Jewish] community once represented as hard working, cultured and non violent, is now represented as a community living close to criminality, informed by thuggery, feeding the international underworld of crime and being comfortable with the forces of terror."

Or try this, replace the word Jewish with Black and see how far any charlatan who utters this statement can get before being sued by B'nai B'rith, the American Civil Liberties Union or Rev Jesse Jackson, let alone given an award.

But replacing Jewish with Sri Lankan Tamil elicits no murmur of protest from any civil liberties organization. It elicits only individual reactions from members of this maligned community. In this modern liberal world, stereotypical views of race, class and genderare relegated to the personal domain, not the public domain.

Public figures who hold such despicable views, such as Rev Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, can say hateful things about the Jewish or white community in the US and get way with it, because of the US constitutional protection of freedom of speech, although they arRadhika Coomaraswamy 2005e the subject of public ridicule. 

In Canada, however, such speech is considered hate speech and is not constitutionally protected and rightfully so. In Germany, also, no one can deny the holocaust or imply that Jews are an impure race. They can be put in prison for such speech.

As noted, both in North America and Europe, there are restrictions on public speech as far as hateful messages are concerned. What Radhika said publicly about the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in the West at McGill should and must be considered as hateful and slanderous. Every effort should be made to identify what legal avenues are available in Canada under its hate speech regulations to sue both her and McGill University.

Is it an indication that McGill University also holds such views that it did not notice such a hateful and slanderous statement about a group of Canadian citizens by one of its award recipients of awards? At the very least, McGill University management should be forced to acknowledge this deviance from accepted Canadian values and apologize to fellow affected Canadians.

In fact Coomaraswamy's view is the same intolerant, bigoted message that is propagated by the Sinhala supremacists and fascists in numerous newspapers, TV shows and websites owned by them. It is a message that even the current Sri Lankan government, composed of such supremacists and fascists, cannot and will not say officially. 

The implication of the Sri Lankan civil war and the contributions to the belligerents on both sides by some people of Sri Lankan descent living in the West has no bearing on what Coomaraswamy said. For people to migrate, there are always pull and a push factors. Without that pull no person of Sri Lankan Tamil decent would have ended up in the West, civil war or not. There are countless civil wars throughout the world at any given time. Millions of people are displaced and thousands more die on a daily basis because of these man-made catastrophes. But not all of them end up in the West. How many Dinkas from Sudan are living in the West? How many Moros from the Philippines are living in the West? They are all prosecuted minorities in their respective countries whose brethren took up arms to protest their treatment.

It is the unique colonial, historic and cultural conditions that contributed to the people of Sri Lankan Tamil descent migrating to the West; the civil war just hastened this migration.  A good analogy would be the Scotch Irish, Russian German, South East Asian Chinese and European Jews in North America. Just like them, Sri Lankan Tamils also were seen as immigrants in their own country. Once a Tamil-speaking person left his or her native village to seek sustenance, as it was the historic necessity for that person to do so, he/she was in alien land, usually unwelcome and living in a ghetto even within Sri Lanka. So for that person to seek greener pastures further afield is not an unwelcome thought. We can conclude that Tamils from Sri Lanka have been historically and culturally predisposed and predestined to migrate, civil war or not.

For Radhika to see this Diaspora only through the prism of the civil war is an indication of her limited intellectual capacity and reasoning power. For her to believe, further, that this Diaspora is in fact clinging to its identity as a Sri Lankan,   Tamil or even Sri Lankan Tamil is amazing considering her own admission as a cosmopolitan.

For most of us Tamil Canadians, or for those who consider ourselves as Tamil Canadians, the daily grind of life is of paramount importance. A great many of us have joined the throngs of the Canadian middle class aspiring even better options for our children. The drab apartment blocks of Scarborough and other towns, where relatively recent poor immigrant Tamils initially congregated are slowly getting populated by even newer immigrants from China and Eastern Europe. This is the great churning effect of urban Canada. One community moves in and other moves out to sSuburbia. First it was the Anglos, then the Greeks and Italians, then the Punjabis and now the Tamils are moving out in throngs to the greater suburbia of Markham, Vaughan and Brampton around Toronto. Living in the West, especially in Canada, stipulates either you join the rat race and progress through the food chain or fall aside and be marginalized.

Fortunately the cultural and historic factors which propelled these Tamils to leave their home country also prepared them to succeed in this harsh world. A great many of them have got off the government dole and have become tax-paying workers, home owners, small business owners and professionals in multitudes. They have steadfastly filled all niches available to them. Recently the author happened to see a TV interview on CBC with a young attractive female Tamil Canadian, who is a national forest ranger who works in Nunavut in the Arctic North!! Criminal activity, both the blue color variety and white, as with in other communities such as the mainstream and the hyphenated variety, is negligible compared to the published murders, robbery and rapes reported in Canada.

Unfortunately the preponderance of African Canadian youth in gun related deaths in Canada is putting a great strain on the entire country, which tries not to criminalize an entire community the way Radhika has done at McGill. The local police, politicians and bureaucrats dealing with this unfortunate situation are devising ever imaginative ways to deal, as well as communicate, about this situation without portraying the entire African Canadian community as prone to crime and thuggary. This sensitivity in the face of actual data, compared with what Radhika uttered without an iota of evidence in Montreal, is commendable indeed and makes me feel a proud Canadian.

Canadian Tamils who are interested in the events of their country of origin are comparable to any other hyphenated Canadians such as Jewish and Irish. It is not the only issue of concern for Canadian Tamils. I can say that for most middle class Canadians paying one's own mortgage bills and planning for their children's higher education is of more concern than any other issue around the world. Once these basic needs are fulfilled, Canadians in general are known to contribute to causes, whether that is approved by a Harvard educated elite or not.

Many Canadians contributed and kept the cause of East Timor alive when Xanana Gusmao's followers were essentially leading an armed insurrection against the Indonesians. The repercussions to East Timorese during the civil war were as stark as to the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

There are many Canadians who hold the idea of an independent Tibet very dear to them. Not all of them are Tibetan Canadians. Identity is also going through its sociological route, with some Tamils viewing themselves as Tamil Canadians, whereas others view themselves simply as visible minorities within Canada, finding common cause with Chinese or African Canadians. Yet others see themselves as just Canadians. Many of them are comfortable with different identities, such as a Hindu when at a Temple, Tamil in a Ceremony, visible minority in the workplace and as a Canadian in the world.

Although Canada as a society has done its best to eliminate racism and prejudice towards its visible and non visible minorities, racism is still a factor that holds some of us back. Racism affects how much money we make, how far you progress in promotions and what business loans we get. It effects our bottom line on a daily basis. It is a harsh reality for all visible minorities to face. Stereotypes and association with crime where none exists is just one of the prejudices that some mainstream Canadian have towards their visible minorities.

For a Sri Lankan of some "stature" to come to Canada and make such derogatory, hateful and factually wrong statements about a group of hardworking Canadians in a Canadian university of repute that we contribute to with our own tax money is unacceptable and unpardonable. We have to act to assure that such racist and hateful remarks cannot be made without strong protest and repercussions. It is time that some of us Tamil Canadians model ourselves around what the Anti Defamation League of the Jewish minority has done for that community.

When no one protests and protects us from such public insult, it is we who need to stand up and put these prejudiced Sri Lankans where they belong. They and their opinions belong in the racist, fascist and wretched Sri Lanka that we have left behind for good.