Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Geneva II

Aesthetics of armed armistice

by Rajeev Sreetharan, Daily Mirror, October 24, 2006

[A] quarter century into conflict, ironically, a unified Lankan identity may be easier to build abroad, in the multiethnic diaspora, rather than domestically between our coasts, where notions of unity in diversity and peaceful co-existence remain elusive. Fed by the clash of culture and open economy, between modernization and Durkhiemian anomie, our pathology of conflict runs deep...

Colombo, Sri Lanka - Between the President’s house and Galle Face Green, tucking op-ed 28/10 pre-Geneva II analysis under his thigh, a barefoot stomps on an accelerator. A three-wheeler zooms across oncoming traffic: motorcycle, cow, bus, lottery-bicycle, van, pedestrian, tractor, fish-cart, schoolboy, army jeep, mongrel, Mercedes. In a sense, rush hour traffic already embodies an equilibrium politico-military struggle sought over the last quarter-century: unity in diversity.

Between lines of the road, anarchy is egalitarian, immune to Pottuvil, Valaichenai, Sampur, Muhamalai, Deegampathana, Puthukudiyiruppu, AFC–cum-Pesalai, semi-permanent refugee populations in the East, an ever-escalating Malthusian humanitarian crisis in the North. Beyond ethnicity, a professor, plumber, politician, and prostitute, all suffer the same chaos in commute. Between lines of Lanka’s coast and schizophrenic FDLs, a more violent meta-narrative resonates, deifying politics of unipolarity through prisms of difference, occasionally blur the democracy-ethnocracy divide.

We have a ‘unique Lankan model’ for negotiations, where dual commitments by the parties to war and peace are harmonious, MBTs in Muhamalai, promises in Geneva, mediating public outcry within the culture of impunity’s grip, a possible perk of semi-socializing Orwellian doublethink vis-a-vis nuanced reportage on death tolls and devolution which moonlight trilingual coverage.

As SLFP-UNP shifts from opposition to alliance, pro-GoSL politico-military strategic equilibrium becomes a platform for peace negotiations, capture of Sampur rekindles desire for Elephant Pass, a quarter century into conflict, ironically, a unified Lankan identity may be easier to build abroad, in the multiethnic diaspora, rather than domestically between our coasts, where notions of unity in diversity and peaceful co-existence remain elusive. Fed by the clash of culture and open economy, between modernization and Durkhiemian anomie, our pathology of conflict runs deep, epitomized by Lanka’s Tripolar Neurosis (LTN): the Sinhalese majority with a minority complex, the Tamil minority with a majority-in-homeland complex, and Muslim minority with a man-in-the-middle complex. A Marxian prism reveals a simpler premise to grievance, division and their equilibrium: the agendas of the few govern destinies of the many, making the ruling class’ mantra: cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am, the proletariat’s mantra – cogito cogito ergo sum - I think that I think therefore I am. In Lanka, daily life is increasingly shaped by politics and militancy beyond the citizen.

Free of Marx, LTN, culture, the conflict’s core, a miasma of misnomers, leans more towards cogito, than sum. Firstly, ethnic conflict isn’t multicultural, but multiracial; cultures can hybridize, races can’t –it’s culture politicized into race. Secondly, intentions underpinning devolution frameworks are less about power-sharing, more about power-consolidation. Thirdly, isn’t the “national question” more the “subnational question”, the question of national security, more the question of subnational insecurity? Fourthly, no parsimonious nation-conception sans Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim sub-national tendencies exists. Fifthly, power-sharing frameworks for negotiations, due to demography/identity vacuums, in the integration context are palliative panacea; if implemented, by partitioning soil while not unifying peoples, devolution will emerge as ethnodevolution, federalism as ethnofederalism. These solutions may transform conflict, not by peacebuilding, but by intra-state regional isolationism and abandoning the multicultural premise of integration for a plural monocultural alternative, no different than secession.

At heart, the territorial integrity issue is the minority rights issue; since the latter isn’t granted constitutionally, the former is sought by minority groups politically, militarily. The need for a solution along federal lines, isn’t reflective of state machinery, but constitutional architecture and individual rights which thus flow. It’s not the unitary state, but institutional capacity and willingness to govern effectively, equally, under a plural Lankan vision.

Clausewitz’s dictum framing GoSL-LTTE-Karuna militancy, war is the continuation of politics by other means, adapted reads: Lankan peace is the continuation of war by other means. Here, peace is chronically transient, often utilized by military-wings for arms-building and restrategizing, nurturing an incestuous symbiosis between military and political parity. Furthermore, to a degree, Muslim minority political aspirations breathe in spaces of possibility created by Tamil militancy; Tamil-Muslim minority groups are neither protected constitutionally, nor capable of influencing mandates of populist majoritarian democracy. Looking back, from the 1929 Donoughmore Commission to the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution to 1985 Thimpu Talks and its Norwegian reincarnation, the 2002 Oslo Declaration, and more recently the Mahinda Chintanaya, P-TOMS, and current Presidential APC, regardless of perceived legitimacy, pro or con, three themes emerge:

    * there has been periodic petition from Lanka’s minority constituency for increased rights, political representation, decentralization.
    * Within unique modus vivendis, repolarizing political environments, and internationalization, rationalized by permutations of urumaya, territorial sovereignty. and anti-terrorism, the Premadasa, Kumaratunge, Wickremesinghe, and Rajapaksa Administrations have resisted offering an acceptable solution concerning minority issues.
    * The GoSL-LTTE MoU has been the only gesture for negative peace; there have been no noteworthy gestures towards positive peace as of yet by either party.

Post-2002 CFA, our road map from war to peace has become more of a roundabout, our nation-state cyclically iterating through stages of conflict transformation and pseudo-peacemaking. It seems at the moment the meta-narrative of negotiation, settlement, and political compromise is the end game itself, rather than an exit strategy for conflict. From 2002-2006, Eelam “X”, the deterministic behavior of Eelam I-IV, iterates through the following five-tiered life-cycle:

    * full-scale conflict
    * gradual conflict de-escalation into low-intensity warfare in parallel to peace process escalation
    * gradual peace process de-escalation, leading to total break down when each party refuses to compromise on the political compromises of devolution/federalism
    * low-intensity warfare
    * n escalation of low-intensity warfare into full-scale conflict.

The complexity of Lanka’s intra-state politics resonates in the immigration/non self-determination contexts of current EU integration of Turkey and post-Soviet bloc dynamics, UK’s integration of British Muslims. Although day-to-day human struggles are similar, Lanka’s struggle is fundamentally different as it grapples with nation-building, gulfs between classical and cosmopolitan sovereignty, national security and human rights, Sichtlichkeit and realpolitik.

Presently, despite the race for military dominance on the ground, pressured by the international community, the actors have been forced into roles of reluctant participation in the peace negotiation process, where the sword of Damocles dangles above: for the GoSL, the trend of normative neocosmopolitanism permeating the globe; for the LTTE, a destabilized arms supply network and spreading post-9-11 omnes-et-singulatem prism through which terrorist identities are moralized in the international arena.

The recent Supreme Court ruling on the N-E de-merger, at a politically sensitive time, may poison the negotiating environment, overshadow key issues, and potentially compromise the possibility of a post-Geneva II GoSL-LTTE convergence towards working for long term peace. Arguably politicized rulings of the judiciary, vacillations of southern consensus, rhetoric of Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim populism also speak to the present challenge of unpeeling nested agendas of the parties, onions with a radius as large as that of the universe. However, on the ground, one maxim rings loud: dead children are just that, dead children.

As we slouch inside the complacent hubris of militarized humanism, the GoSL-LTTE-(JVP-JHU) nucleus, molding Lanka's future in Geneva and the battlefield, upon a nexus of poverty and insecurity, in concert, dance political bharata-natyam on a pinhead, where the culture of impunity, impunity of culture, and culture of political impunity congeal, shaping the day-to-day of the working class.

Integration begins with re-humanizing the human element.

Coconuts from the Kfir, seem to only stir the claymore, that unleash communal violence in village-markets, fueling suicide boats off the coast, feeding hunger of rapes in the North, triggering T-56 barrels in the East, drowning Tamil-Muslim refugee camps in Vanni, inspiring more children to join the one booming domestic market with surging employment demand: war.

This is our modern history. It has no face, no memory, no capacity for collective emotion - it worships intimations of shell casings, pain, loss, power, Machiavellian realpolitik under ethnonationalism's watchful gaze, slow-motion genocide's empty belly. From distances of Temple Trees or academia, shelter of Colombo or Canada, for those who haven't lost beloved, witnessed rape/abduction, heard mines, fled from air strikes, inhaled the haunting ambrosia of blood, dust, burnt flesh, and gunpowder, understanding the pain of war is an intellectual exercise. Defending the Sinhala Nation under classical sovereignty, Eelam under self-determination, though politically sublimated by popular discourse into binary ideological tensions of war-peace, state-terrorism, GoSL-LTTE, Sinhala-Tamil, Muslim-non-Muslim, at its elemental core is a majority-minority tension born of subnationalism, authoring socio-economic grievances, dialectically writing modern history in the dialect of bullets and dead bodies.

Through psyches disoriented by aesthetics of armed armistice, LTN, ethnofederalism, multiracialism, and subnational insecurity, we no longer see the butterfly in the battlefield, child in the killing field. Our struggle, as the working class, civil society, politician, cadre, mother, student, is to believe in a united Lanka, to compress cogito cogito ergo sum to cogito ergo sum, to see the butterfly fluttering between the Kfir and claymore. It’s digging up children’s bodies from killing fields with our own hands. Just because we can’t hear them cry, see them bleed, feel their hunger, does not mean they don’t exist – they’re no less Lankan or human than you or I.

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