Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sri Lanka poisoned by nationalism

Tamil protestors have been out in force in London for several weeks. I said to one that the tragic support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) meant I saw both sides as equally in the wrong. However, none of this takes away from the humanitarian disaster that this war has seen inflicted on Tamils and the Sinhalese. The apparent ceasefire by the LTTE may hopefully see an end to the killing, but it wont resolve the underlying sore - the malignancy of nationalism on both sides.

The LTTE is a terrorist organisation that maintained a gangster "state" in the north of Sri Lanka for years. It's own tactics which included, until recently, child soldiers as well as bombing civilian targets have badly hurt the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The LTTE, with shades of Hamas, happily has used civilians as human shields. However, which most Tamils support a cause which is based on resisting the nationalist chauvinism of the Buddhist Sinhalese, there is a darker side to this resistance. It is based not on promoting a Sri Lanka where the state is blind to nationality, but on separatism. To resist bigotry and nationalism by promoting your own nationalism by murderous means is not claiming the moral highground. For Tamils to start to claim that, they need to condemn and reject the LTTE, and demand equality under the law and before the law in Sri Lanka. After all, Tamils in India have little appetite for separatism, as India itself is not ethnically or religiously defined.

However, while Wikipedia has lists of attacks by the LTTE, it also has them of the Sri Lankan military. There is little doubt that the Sri Lankan military is far from innocent in this conflict. Its own application of severe censorship on reporting the war means its own antics will be hidden. Sinhalese paramilitary have assisted the Sri Lankan government in attacking Tamil areas. China too has helped armed the Sri Lankan government, demonstrating its willingness to turn a back while its customers kill.

So it looks like the Sri Lankan government will win, but for the conflict to truly be over, Tamils must no longer fear that government - which means it should be open, which means removing restrictions on the media - it should seek transparency and reconciliation, acknowledging what wrong has been done, so Sri Lanka as a whole can start to put this conflict behind it. Tamils and Sinhalese both have to admit people in their communities have assaulted, murdered and destroyed, and the will must be to live side by side.

However, whilst too many in Sri Lankan politics pander to Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, they will continue to see Tamils as the "other", a group that deserve nothing, instead of treating all those in Sri Lanka as individuals. Sri Lanka has tremendous potential in tourism, and in enjoying a share of India's economic revival.

It can only do it best if the religious, nationalist and Marxist elements of Sri Lanka's politics can be eschewed. Yes, Sri Lanka, start treating each other as individuals, not as Tamils, Sinhalese, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever.

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