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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2642

Sri Lanka fights to preserve democracy as Tiger terrorists fool the west

By Rajmohan Gomez

Blatant tolerance of non-Islamic terrorism in societies obsessed by Islamic terrorism

When an untruth is repeated over a period of time, it usually appears to end up as an unassailable truth.

This is the bizarre logic that has for close upon three decades, driven the propaganda machinery of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the mono-ethnic, fascist terrorist group fighting for a separate state in Sri Lanka. The victims, who consistently swallow the glib untruths of the LTTE, comprise sections of the international community – that is, lawmakers of various countries, NGOs, certain parochial media and sections of the public, especially in the west.

Take, for instance, the latest media comment in the US on Sri Lanka’s conflict, which is the Boston Globe editorial ‘Violence Drags on in Sri Lanka’ of November 14, 2007, which, apart from several glaring fallacies that render its arguments invalid, parrots out clichés that reveal the ignorance of international media, particularly in the west, of the ground realities and the complex dynamics of Sri Lanka’s conflict.

In a world sensitive to the horrors of terrorism, it is incredible that the conflict in Sri Lanka should be viewed as one that, as the Boston Globe puts it, “pits the government, dominated by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, against minority Tamils who live mostly in the island nation’s north and east.” It appears that the Boston Globe is unaware that today, the majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka, (about 54%), lives outside the north and the east of the country, among the Sinhalese, Muslims and other communities that blend into Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic social fabric. This demographic transition shows that Sri Lanka’s conflict is not an “ethnic conflict” as the world at large conveniently categorizes it. Neither should the conflict be viewed in the black-and-white terms of the international media, which simplistically reduces it to a confrontation between “Sinhalese Buddhists” and “Tamil Hindus.” In so doing, the international media, maybe unintentionally, distorts the reality of unadulterated terrorism to achieve political objectives, into a non-existent religious conflict. This has also led to a situation, where even intellectuals try to equate Tiger terrorism with Hindu extremism. The reality is that Tiger suicide terrorists include Christians as well as Hindus. Sri Lankan Tamils are mostly Hindu, however, among them, there is a substantial number of Christians too. Despite religious diversity, Sri Lanka is a country that has enjoyed religious harmony, with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity flourishing side by side for many centuries.

Sri Lanka’s conflict, driven by non-Islamic terrorism, is overshadowed by the concerns of global Islamic terrorism with which the west is currently obsessed. Thus, the baseless demands of the LTTE are not viewed in perspective. For instance, does the world even care that there is no historic basis for the claim of “a Tamil Homeland”? To establish their claim for a traditional homeland in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the LTTE selectively used a part of the record left in 1799 by the first British Colonial Secretary Hugh Cleghorn known as ‘Cleghorn Minute.’ Although Sir Fredrick North, the first British Governor and Cleghorn’s contemporary, disputed this claim as fictitious, the claim for a non-existent “traditional homeland” has been exploited since 1976. Furthermore, the LTTE is demanding over 30% of Sri Lanka’s landmass and two thirds of the coast, for less than 12 % of the population, the majority of who live outside the north and the east. In a world where superficiality rules, the unacceptability of this proposition is simply dismissed. Furthermore, with about 54% of Tamils in Sri Lanka living outside the north and the east, in a scenario that a separate state is granted in the north and the east, what is the feasible constitutional arrangement for the 54% of Tamils?

If only the international community would view the issue in perspective, it would understand that the entire conflict revolves around increasing pressure for scarce resources and economic opportunities, for Sri Lanka is the size of West Virginia with a population 10 times greater than that of West Virginia. The situation is aggravated by Sri Lanka being an emerging economy, which needs to reach a higher plateau of development to afford adequate opportunities for all. After all, the root cause of the conflict and youth unrest among Tamils as well as Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, is the lack of economic opportunity. When western countries sanctimoniously try to cut assistance to Sri Lanka on the grounds of alleged human rights violations, they little realize they are only fuelling more terrorism in a country desperate to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation.

The Boston Globe in its editorial says that the Sinhalese must “accept a meaningful devolution of power to the Tamil areas.” If the editorial is referring to both the north and the east, one should note that the east is not a predominantly Tamil area, with the Sinhalese and the Muslims together outnumbering the Tamils there. The inference should have been that all communities living in those areas need an equitable solution, where political power is fairly shared among them. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reiterated that a political solution need necessarily be just and fair to all communities.

The Boston Globe editorial ends on a presumptuous note, “Rajapaksa should back constitutional changes that would allow for Tamil self-government in a confederal Sri Lanka,” but fails to share with the readers the fact that President Rajapaksa has set in motion a process to reach a meaningful devolution through consultation of all political parties represented in parliament. Much of the international community, which today appears to assume unwarranted responsibility for governance in Sri Lanka, has failed to understand the complex dynamics of the Sri Lankan polity. A southern consensus for proposals that would lead to devolution of power in the country is being negotiated. However, the outcome of the “constitutional changes,” be it confederal or any other arrangement, is not for the international community to decide, but a decision of the people of Sri Lanka through a free and fair democratic process.

Instead of mouthing inane clichés, the international media could play a positive role in Sri Lanka’s conflict by understanding ground realities and adopting a powerful line of argument why the LTTE should give up terrorism and get to the negotiating table with the Sri Lankan government. Successive governments of Sri Lanka have tried to negotiate with the LTTE since 1985, and in each of the six series of negotiations since then, up to 2006, the LTTE consistently walked away, and on several occasions, took steps to snuff out the lives of political leaders who facilitated the talks. In hindsight, it is easy to see that the LTTE only agreed to come to the negotiating table when cornered, and used the talks as a façade to rearm and regroup itself to carry out more brutal terrorist attacks to achieve its political objective of a mono-ethnic separate state, denying the people in the north and the east a democratic option.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in South Asia and it is the responsibility of the international community to help protect vulnerable nations, and to ensure that terrorism will not destroy the democratic fabric of such nations. One effective measure is to choke off funds raised by front organizations of terrorist outfits such as groups like the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). That the U.S. is prepared to do just that is amply demonstrated by the freezing of the TRO’s U.S.-held assets on November 15, 2007. Another measure is the dogged pursuit and successful conviction of terrorist-linked activists. This would ensure that terrorists like the Tigers cannot raise funds abroad to hold sovereign nations to ransom with the overpowering brutality of terrorism. Where the U.S. leads, other nations are bound to follow.

- Asian Tribune

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