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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2966

The Turn of the Other Tamils

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech.
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain....”

WH Auden (August 1968)

It is a sea of change in the making. The international community is finally beginning to look beyond the LTTE; the world is expressing a growing interest in a democratic, civilised Tamil alternative to the Tigers.

Last week’s EU resolution on the LTTE indicates, once again, that the international community is no longer willing to accept the Tigers as the sole representative of the Tamil people: (The EU) “recognises that the LTTE does not represent all the Tamil peoples of Sri Lanka and calls on the LTTE to allow for political pluralism and alternate democratic voices in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka which would secure the interests of all peoples and communities.”

The EU’s rejection of the sole representative fallacy is in the main due to the abominable nature and the execrable conduct of the self professed sole representative. The Tigers, by their own actions, have placed themselves so much beyond the pale that the need for a different, non-Tiger representation for the Tamils has become self-evident The million dollar question is whether the anti-Tiger Tamils can transform themselves to fill the political void that is being created by this increasing international de-legitimisation of the LTTE.

This bears repetition because it has lessons for those of us in the anti-Tiger camp as well – the increasing international isolation of the LTTE is in the main due to the untiring efforts of the Tigers themselves. As the latest EU resolution clearly indicates, the woes of the Tiger are of the Tiger’s own making. The LTTE is being punished not because it is a separatist movement or because it is an armed movement; the LTTE is being punished because of its terrorism and the crimes it is committing against the Tamil people, particularly civilian killings, child conscription and extortion in the Diaspora. Consequently the credit for the EU ban should, in the main, go to Mr. Pirapaharan; without his persistent barbarism this would not have been possible.

The ‘Black Sea Tiger’ attack on the Pearl II cruiser was probably the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back – in the case of both the US and the EU. The Tigers are regarded as pioneers in naval terrorism. The suicide attack on the USS Cole was not the only time an Islamic terrorist group used tactics pioneered by the Tigers against Western targets; according to Maritime Intelligence Group the attackers of the French tanker Limburg (in 2002 near Yemen) also copied LTTE methods.

The Report of the Conference on ‘Maritime Security in the Asia Pacific’ organised by the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies opines that “the maritime strike capabilities of the LTTE maybe indicative of maritime terrorism in the future”. According to Michael Richardson of the Maritime Intelligence Group “the LTTE provides a case study of how terrorist groups can use ships” (A Time Bomb for Global Trade – Maritime Related Terrorism in an Age of Weapons of Mass Destruction). The international community therefore cannot turn a blind eye to the acts of terrorism by the LTTE; true the Tigers are not a direct threat to any Western power; but they constitute an indirect threat since their tactics are being studied and copied by other terrorist groups at war with the Western world.

Looking Beyond the Tigers

Contrary to the fears of some Tamil commentators and contrary to the illusions of Sinhala hardliners, the growing international condemnation of the Tigers in no way amounts to a rejection of the Tamils or their cause. The EU’s specific mention of the Oslo Declaration is a clear indication of its undiminished commitment to democratic devolution. In this sense the EU resolution is a rejection of both Northern and Southern extremisms; it constitutes an expression of support for a democratic Sri Lanka which is seriously committed to the protection of the basic human rights of all her citizens and is willing to share power with her minorities.

The EU ban is thus not directed at Tamils or their legitimate grievances; it is directed at the Tigers and their attempt to pursue a terroristic and anti-civilisational agenda in the name of Tamils.

The international community is at long last beginning to acknowledge that the Tigers are not coterminous with Tamils and the cause of the LTTE is not the same as the cause of the Tamils. The world remains as committed as ever to a democratic political solution to the ethnic problem – as the recent pronouncements by the US, the EU and India clearly demonstrate.

In fact the international community’s growing hostility to the LTTE partly stems from the realisation that the Tigers are not interested in such a peaceful resolution of the Lankan conflict.

The LTTE’s aim is not federalism; its aim is not even a pluralist Eelam. The LTTE wants nothing other than a dictatorial, terroristic Tiger Eelam, which is dedicated to the worship of the Sun God. This makes the LTTE not so much a part of the solution but a part of the problem and an impediment to a solution.
The LTTE’s conduct during the present peace process demonstrated beyond doubt its determination to impose its own solution (Tiger Eelam) on Sri Lanka, the Tamils and the world. And the world has obviously taken note. After all it was during the administration of Ranil Wickremesinghe that the Tigers withdrew from Peace Talks (that was almost one year before the Karuna rebellion).

The LTTE also rejected the Oslo Declaration, which the international community regards as fundamental to any political solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. Not all the effort of all the world (including the Co-Chairs) was successful in making the LTTE attend the Tokyo conference in May 2003.

The Tigers’ violent boycott of the 2005 Presidential election (advertently or inadvertently) caused the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe, seen by the West as the ‘Peace Candidate’.

The cumulative message of all these actions was unmistakable – the LTTE is not serious about a negotiated peace within a united Sri Lanka and it does not give a damn for the world.

In fact not even the most abject appeasement can appease the Tigers (in this regard the similarity between Adolf Hitler and Vellupillai Pirapaharan is striking; though the Munich Deal gave Herr Hitler Czechoslovakia on a platter, he was unhappy with it, since it prevented him from exercising the military option). It is this extremism and maximalism of the Tigers which discredited the policy of engagement on the part of the international community and made the Canadian and the EU ban possible.

Given this unalterable nature of the Tiger the international community has to look beyond the LTTE in furtherance of its objective democratic devolution within a untied Sri Lanka. The EU resolution which rejects the sole representative fallacy and advocates political pluralism for the Tamils is a step in this direction. What the international community would like to see is not a substitute but an alternative to the LTTE, which by definition is as different from the Tigers as possible in its commitment to democracy and human rights. This would have been the moment of the old TULF, the TULF of not just Appapillai Amirtalingam but of Neelan Tiruchelvam.

The Tigers would have known that the hour of the GOP of the Tamils would come again; this is probably one of the reasons for the LTTE’s policy of decimating part of the TULF leadership and enslaving the rest. The sole unbowed survivor of the TULF, V Anandasangaree, has a key role in developing an alternative to the Tigers; the ideal would be if the anti-Tiger Tamil parties can come together in a democratic front under his nominal leadership. Desirable as this is, given the objective and subjective conditions it is probably not very realistic. Still some version of such a front is necessary if the anti-Tiger Tamils are to benefit from the new international conjuncture.

A Tamil Alternative

Contained in the punishment meted to the LTTE by the EU there is a clear warning to both the Lankan state and the anti-Tiger Tamils: do not be like the LTTE. The fate of the Tigers today can be the fate of the anti-Tiger Tamils and the Lankan state tomorrow, if they too decide to follow in the footsteps of the LTTE and resort to terroristic and anti-democratic practices in the name of anti-Tigerism. The EU resolution does mention some of the crimes attributed to either the Lankan state or the anti-Tiger Tamils – particularly the killing of Joseph Pararajasingham and the attacks on pro-Tiger Tamil media personnel (the murders of journalists M. Nimalarajan, D. Sivaram and the two Uthuyan employees have been singled out). The EU resolution also “calls on both the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to refrain from further actions liable to jeopardise the peace process, and in particular attacks on civilians”.

There is an increasingly visible trend in the anti-Tiger camp of copying LTTE tactics in the struggle against the LTTE. Unarmed supporters of the Tigers are being targeted. Incidents such as the Kayts massacre, the victims of which included a baby of four months and a child of four years, cannot but cause concern about the diminishing difference between the Tigers and the anti-Tiger Tamils. Such practices are counterproductive both nationally and internationally as they will alienate both the Tamil community and the world. In fact such targeting of civilian Tamils (even if they are supporters of the Tigers) can turn the anti-Tiger Tamils from rebels into paramilitaries.

The challenge before the anti-Tiger Tamils is to continue to oppose the LTTE without resorting to LTTE tactics of targeting civilians, extortion and conscripting children - even if such tactics bring short term advantages.

The current fate of the Tigers demonstrates beyond any doubt that these methods do not work in reality; they may give the impression of success, but these successes are illusory and transient. In the end these anti-democratic and anti-civilisational methods are profoundly counterproductive. If the anti-Tiger Tamils want to turn the new international conjuncture to their advantage, they must demonstrate in practice that they are as different from the LTTE as possible, in their commitment to pluralism, their respect for human rights and their willingness to promote and settle for democratic devolution. This is the only possible path to political legitimacy and political power.

- Asian Tribune -

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