Freedom Denied! Are We Happy Now: The Crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils

"Terrorism doesn't just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism - real and exaggerated - has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human rights abuses"

      - Naomi Klein


"If you listen to the politicians, you might think we are all terrorists"

      - Loesje (International - originally Dutch - free speech organization)


"Our position is clear and frank... We consider the military occupation of our land a terrorist act"

      - Yasser Arafat


So, with the war in Sri Lanka now over and the Tamils having been crushed and brought to their knees, I'd like to ask just one question: Are we happy now? With the Tamils' decades-long struggle for self-determination quashed and their dreams of an independent homeland shattered, are we fully satisfied? Should we give ourselves a pat on the back?

Because there's no denying that this result is largely due to us here in the freedom-loving West. Specifically, I'm referring to how the governments of Canada, America, Australia and the European Union all decided to take sides in this civil war - this brutal ethnic civil war.

Not only did we impose an embargo on one side - the Tamil minority - while fully supporting the other - the Sinhalese majority - but we even went as far as to label the Tamils as "terrorists", while actively working to shut down all of their overseas funding and their ability to arm themselves. Both sides may have clearly been guilty of committing some pretty heinous atrocities, but for some reason we decided that the best thing to do was to condemn the one side, while cheering on and supporting the other.

Worst of all, we sided with the wrong side.

The LTTE

I'm not about to try and argue that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, were/are a cuddly democratic bunch (few liberation movements are), nor am I about to defend their use of suicide bombings against civilian targets or their forced recruitment of child soldiers. However, I will most definitely argue that the Tamils have every right to a homeland of their own on the island of Sri Lanka.

Casualties of 9/11

The truth is that by the beginning of this decade the Tamils had, in fact, already won a homeland for themselves in the north and east of the island. The two sides had fought to a stalemate, signed a ceasefire and entered into peace talks. But one very significant event on the other side of the world changed all of this - an event that had absolutely nothing to do with Sri Lanka. I'm talking about 9/11.

In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington and in the rush to launch an all-out "Global War On Terror", Western countries, under intense pressure from America, took specific aim at the Tamil Tigers.

How they figured their so-called War On Terror had anything to do with a civil war on a small island in the Indian Ocean is beyond me, but the consequences were devastating to the Tamil's cause. With one side in this conflict now fully armed and the other embargoed and isolated - with all of their overseas fundraising shut down - the eventual result was inevitable.

Now, 9/11 or no 9/11, picking the Sri Lankan government as "the good guys" and labeling the Tamils alone as "terrorists" was not only ridiculous when you consider the historical causes of the war (that is, that the Tamils rose up after years of oppression, persecution and some outright massacres), but it was also quite ridiculous when you consider the war crimes carried out by the Sri Lankan military during the course of the war: the mass slaughter of civilians, particularly in the early stages of the conflict; the death squads; the killing of aid workers; etc. All of this is well documented, yet somehow we in the West decided to label the Tamils alone as terrorists. Truly incomprehensible nonsense.

Then there's the fact that the Tamils - living largely in a concentrated area of the island and making up between 15 to 20% of the total population - obviously have as much of a right to self-determination as the people of France, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Hungary, Poland, Ireland or Greece.

Or the people of Kosovo, East Timor, Tibet, Palestine, Chechnya or Kurdistan, for that matter.

An Inalienable Right... For Some

Which raises an obvious question: Why do we here in the West pick and choose who has an inalienable right to self-determination (the people of Kosovo, East Timor, Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, etc.) and who doesn't (the Chechens, the Kurds, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, etc.)? And where do we get off labeling those who we've deemed undeserving of their own homeland as "terrorists"?

As I argued in an earlier piece, The Blame The Victims Rant (Up with the strong, down with the weak), the armies of the nations we in the West have decided to support are often guilty of committing much worse atrocities than the rebel groups we've arbitrarily decided to label as "terrorists". It is government forces that carpet bomb rebel held areas. It is government forces that often wage scorched-earth policies, killing thousands - or tens of thousands - of innocents. But we're, for some strange reason, totally fixated upon any and all rebel bombings.

Now, if these rebel attacks are aimed at innocent civilians then there's no denying that we're talking about war crimes, but my point is that the government forces are usually far more guilty of these crimes. What's up with the hypocrisy? That's what I really want to know.

Some will say: "But the government forces never intentionally kill innocent civilians". To which I say: What a load of naive, simple-minded bullshit. From Dresden to Hiroshima, and from Vietnam to Chechnya, military forces know damn well who they're targeting when they carpet bomb, or nuke, civilian areas from above.

Or, as we've watched in recent months in Sri Lanka, government forces know exactly what they're doing when they rain down rockets and mortars on civilian areas, causing horrific civilian casualties. The UN now believes that nearly 7,000 civilians may have been killed, and another 13,000 injured, in just the past 4 to 5 months of the Sri Lankan army's all-out push for victory.

Twisted and Absurd

If the West's decision to pick one side in a civil war seems quite arbitrary and more than a little farcical, that's because it is. But this is nothing new and it's, of course, hardly limited to just us here in the West:

The Russians slaughtered at least 200,000 Chechen civilians in a few short years in a scorched-earth campaign, but, according to them, and some here in the West, it was the Chechens who were, by some bizarre form of twisted logic, the actual "terrorists" for wanting an independent homeland.

The Indonesians caused the deaths of 200,000 people over a 20-year period in East Timor, yet, according to the Indonesians, it was the Timorese who were, in fact, the real "terrorists".

The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan back in 1979, but when the Afghans decided to resist the Russians labeled them as, you guessed it, "terrorists".

Further back, when the Irish fought a guerrilla war for their independence, between 1919-1921, they were written-off as nothing but "murdering terrorists" by the occupying British, who themselves most certainly could have been tagged with that label.

And, let's not forget that, in more recent times, the Americans invaded and occupied Iraq, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, but, of course, it was those who fought back in defense of their country who were labeled the "evil terrorists".

It's really quite absurd when you stop to think about it. And this list could go on and on and...

A Job Well Done?

So, again I ask, with the Tamils of Sri Lanka losing their de facto independence of the past two decades and the Sinhalese majority once more in absolute control of the whole island, are we happy? Are we satisfied? Are we proud of ourselves for helping put the Tamils back in their place?

Just because we deserve our liberty and freedom, that doesn't mean the Tamils deserve theirs, right? Again, the situation leading up to the civil war there may be well-documented and few (outside of Sri Lankan) would disagree that the Tamils had just cause in rising up, but as long as we can continue convincing ourselves that they were nothing more than sinister "terrorists" then we can go on fantasizing that justice has been done. Right?

And the fate of the Tamils be damned.

Island Paradise

I should mention that during our three-year backpacking trip across Asia earlier this decade, my wife, Sonoko, and I spent three incredible months in Sri Lanka and, while there, we made some really good friends.

Our time there on the island was unequivocally one of the greatest experiences of my life. In all the years I've spent traveling, few places have come close to Sri Lanka for sincere warmth and hospitality. The people of that tropical paradise are simply among the friendliest in the world. And that goes for both the Sinhalese and the Tamils we got to know.

Of course, every one of our Sinhalese friends would strongly oppose just about everything I've said above, but that is to be expected. As in most war zones, they have been bombarded with years of government propaganda and nationalistic claptrap and have predictably become convinced of their own righteousness and victimhood, à la America in the years following 9/11.

Tragic

Finally, let me just state the obvious: that, with over 80,000 people losing their lives, this war has been absolutely tragic. However, that doesn't mean its conclusion is any reason for celebration. The fact is, a people who have had their own homeland for the past two decades have just had it stolen away. All largely due to our unnecessary and unjust involvement.

Freedom, once won, is now, once more, denied. And this fact makes the whole brutal war even more tragic. For anyone who believes in justice and self-determination, this is a truly sad outcome indeed.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Thursday, May 21st, 2009

 

Check out my follow-up piece regarding the reaction generated by this rant: (Stirring Up) A Mighty Shitstorm: The Perils of Ranting On A Civil War

And watch this: Interview with Sri Lankan Tamil rapper M.I.A. on Real Time With Bill Maher

 

For more on the above topic read this: The Throwin' Off The Shackles Rave: First Kosovo, Now The World

 

Or this: The Blame The Victims Rant (Up with the strong, down with the weak)

 

And for another recent rant try this: Nothing To Fear But Truth Itself: Criminalizing Criticism of Israel

 

To read more about our travels in Sri Lanka click here: Travel: Sri Lanka

 

And for lots more on politics visit the Politics Homepage

 

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Comments

You can see many more comments - over 50 in all - posted in response to this piece on the Georgia Straight's website here:

 

Freedom denied: The crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils

 

I don’t think any Tamil could have said it any better

I don’t think any Tamil could have said it any better than you have. It reaffirms my faith in impartial journalism which is in short supply in the post 911 war on terror era. The Sri-Lankan government has done an excellent job in hiding its heinous crimes under the guise of fighting terrorism. For more than thirty long years it has kept journalists out of the war zone in the pretext of ensuring their safety – this in-spite of the fact that the rebels have not killed a single westerner. It continues to do the same thing forcing the feisty French foreign minister to comment out of sheer desperation that he is prepared to take the risk of visiting the “No Fire Zone” if only the Sri-Lankan government would allow him to visit the NFZ and see for himself what really is taking place there.

 

Despite its best efforts the SLG(Sri-Lankan Government) had failed its attempt at hiding the gross human rights violations and the Geneva conventions governing the rules of waging war. The use of heavy weapons on its own people, bombing hospitals, killing prisoners of war, detaining health care workers, detaining Tamil parliamentarians and above all the detention of almost 300,000 people in concentration camps whose only fault was that they spend ten, fifteen years under rebel rule – collective punishment for being Tamils I guess, have all been laid bare in for the entire world to see.

 

The SLG may be thinking the final chapter has been written, but we beg to differ. We will finally be able to put this behind us only when the perpetrators have been identified and brought to justice and the SLG government taken to task for it war crimes. As for the Tamils right to self determination I think the answer lies in what my daughter had to say after attending the all night vigil outside the US consulate in Toronto, she asked me If I could take her down there at least once a week and when I asked her how long she wants to do this her answer without hesitation was as long as it takes.

I was there in every single riot since 1977 to 1983

i was there in every single riot since 1977 to 1983

the duty of a government is to protect all its civilians

my father was affected in the 1959 riots

my mother and aunt were coming by car from kurunegala to colombo escaping the sinhala mobs when they burnt my aunts fiance and the other tamils alive in the car but the driver stopped for a while and my aunt watched this horrible crime

she was never the same again she lost her mind and was always under heavy medication

there was a book written by someone about this. He was the GA of kurunegala at that time his crime being a tamil

1983 my family lost everything we were refugees just with our clothes on our back on the boat to india

now my parents, brothers and sisters live in different continents

we rarely see each other

 

before independence the tamils had high ranking jobs but after independence thay gradually lost it and then came sirimavo bandaranaike and stopped it all together and even stopped then from getting into university this is a fact

then in 1977 the opposition party TULF was banned and walla the LTTE the was born to fight for the rights of the tamil people and the syatematic discrimination of the tamoul

these are undisputed facts

 

self determination

native people of the USA

native people in canada

french speaking people in quebec canada

then you can also look at switzerland, austria, belgium

 

300,000 tamils are in concentration camps today their self esteem crushed

their rights violated

forced deportation by the bus loads

white van kidnappings, tamil journalists and politicians assasinated and held in overcrowded prisons indefinitely

lawyers killed beaten and intimidated into silence

media shut down, journalists assasinated, media institutions burnt down, editors killed

funny how this is called liberating the tamils

 

democracy US style

thats what the US said with its war crime partner UK

when it invaded Iraq without the security council resolution

we want to liberate the people of iraq

today more than 2 million iraqis have died

guantanamo, abu ghraib, secret prisons

torture, rape

creation of killer militias, blackwater (mercenaries)

and the same goes on in afghanistan

and currently SWAT in pakistan

already 1.5 million refugees

 

so now its a case of monkey see monkey do

whats good for the US is good for us

 

The UN and the UNSC are financed and controlled by the US and its allies

and when the US says Jump they ask how high

the UN has become a joke and is one of the most corrupted institutions in the world

 

anyways I have so much to say but given the situation it is very dangerous

 

So Mike Cowie thanks for the article

and surely you know everything about propaganda ha ha thanks to the free media in the USA leading to the war in Iraq

 

big al

soo wrong

.You sure need to learn SL history. tamils originally lived in srilanka about 1 % of the total population restricted to jafna and kilinochi. Singhlese chased these invaders when ever they got their Buddhist kingdom strengthened. sl had always been a budhist kingdom. problem arose when the British, Dutch and Portuguese brought slaves and indentured servnts to work in their spcies plantations, tipping the balance. now I my self a descendent of tamil who have assimilated in to the fabric of SL society. but these new immigrants from tamil nadu don't wnt to do anything with their new country, they want to create a mythical monoethnic home land for them from SL territory. even in jafna all the name places are actually singhalese. now you sugest that we give them a home land from our motherlnd, like Israel. what are u actually saying

You are a racist Son of a bitch.

Before the British invaded and colonized Ceylon, there were two separate kingdoms, the Singhalese and Tamil kingdoms. It is the British when they left the Island in 1949, gave the entire Island, to you Racist, Babarians . A day will come when, you damn Singhalese would be wiped out, as tamils are actually in the majority, when you consider the whole world.

sooooooooooo wrong

I guess having burned down the Jaffna libray which contained not only ancient cultutral material but also ancient HISTORICAL INFORMATION the SInhala-Buddhist extremists are free to make up their history as they go along! These SInhala-Buddhist extremist ignoramouses do not even know that it was only because South India (including the Tamils) supported and practised Buddhism from the earliest times and was largely Buddhist until about 1000 years ago that Buddhism took root in Lanka. Buddhism is not at all the preserve of Sinhala-Buddhists. In fact I would say that those who identify with the conjoin 'Sinhala-Buddhist' are not Buddhists at all ! And of course the Sinhala Kings were mostly Tamil and left inscriptions in Tamil. According to soo wrong he/she is a descended from Tamils and has become Sinhala-Buddistised. There are also a lot of Tamils who are descended from Tamils and have remained Tamils. Why does that give Tamils any less claim to Lanka? At any rate Tamils were in Lanka since very ancient times - and that is historical fact as opposed to the lion myth of the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists. The so called "slaves" that the Dutch and Portuguese brought from India assimilated into the resident populations in the South and North and East and Westn - and for example string hoppers (eaten North South East and West) and such like are due to the Keralites that the Dutch brought over. Some assimilated into the Tamil speaking population some into the Sinhala- speaking population. The British however severely restricted and controlled their indentured labourers on the tea estates and worked them hard and they were not allowed to mingle. So when 1948 came the estate Tamils still formed a distinct group by themselves - and this control was something continued by the people who took over the estates.

sooo wrong is the denial of Tamils right to self-determination

Talk about lies! Now you have oppressed the Tamil people and it seems that you blood sucking murders are getting ready to change the history of the Tamils then wipe it out. Where did you come up with the 1% crap? You are a descendent of Tamil? Yeah right. SL society? The one that tortures, rapes, loots and wants to wipe the Tamils of this planet. Congrats! For becoming a fabric of a barbaric society. Looks like you been breast fed, then spoon fed and now looks like you are consuming Sinhalese chauvinism and racism everyday. The few Sinhalese who wanted to treat the Tamils equally should have sniffed your kinds out and sunk you in the depth of the Indian Ocean.

sooo wrong

Sinhalese may have more Bengali origin genes than Tamils in Sri Lanka but they are basically the same “race” of people, any reputable geneticist will tell you this. Even their mythical heritage acknowledges inter marriage with Tamil women of the Island. There are 2 main causes for the ethnic problem: 1. Aryanist European ideas introduced during British “divide & rule” (mostly due to sincere academic interest in the origins of language & peoples on the island) which would later corrupt Protestant Buddhism’s rejection of religious Universalism to equate with advocacy of racism on the Island. 2. Failure of successive Governments of Sri Lanka (including the present govt) to recognize, prosecute or punish crimes against Tamils especially those committed by Police or military personnel. This can correctly be perceived as complicity in those crimes. I encourage all to review epitaph-for-tamil-eelam and burning of Jaffna Library
 
In 1998, a Court in Sri Lanka was informed by a Sinhalese soldier of mass graves of Tamils in Chemmani, Jaffna. Exhumations were conducted at that time. The Asian Human Rights Commission in a 2005 press statement commented that the exhumations (done more than 10 months after the first disclosure) were generally viewed as a “publicity stunt” and lamented that up until 2005, more than 6 years later, “no serious action has been taken to prosecute the perpetrators” ... and you wonder why Tamils supported LTTE?

The Next Phase

I posted something similar on your article in straight.com. I think the Tamil Diaspora should drop the demand and hope for an independent state, but don't give up hope for Sri Lanka. The most important thing to is to hope for a quick return to peace, security, democracy, and especially economic liberalism. With your western incomes and deep pockets, YOU CAN BUY THIS ISLAND. Build schools and hospitals in the North, build skyscrappers, build vacation resorts. Bring tourists and make money. Many westeners don't wish to go to hot & crowded India for vacation, but I'm sure they would love to visit an island like Sri Lanka. And let Sri Lanka have their Singhalese chauvanism and Singhalese history. Who cares? Its possible Tamils will be neglected with regards public investment for years to come. Thats why private investment is so important. And if you don't like Singhalese politicians, don't fight them, BUY THEM. If the tsunami taught us anything, these politicians have no scruples. The Tigers are dead, but the new Tigers should fight for a political voice with money. I hear that Tamils in Sri Lanka used to be fairly priveleged and well educated. Well let the end of this war mark the rise a new Tamil industrial class.

God you're so very very wrong!

First of all you need to really have a lesson in Sri Lankan history and then too both Sinhalese and Tamil history. I'm an Englishman and have nothing to do with this conflict, but I have studied South Asian political history for my major back in the late 1980s and know that most of your assumptions about the Sinhalese Tamil issues are totally wrong. You also say "mass slaughter of civilians, particularly in the early stages of the conflict; the death squads; the killing of aid workers" - Yes I agree, but these were all carried out by the LTTE and not the government? Surely, you should not write about things you know nothing of, or are you being paid to write this stuff by the terrorists? And yes my friend the LTTE are terrorists. They have brutally killed over 40,000 innocent civilians in senseless suicide bomb attacks and other horrible terrorist attacks. But your biggest blunder is this: You state that the war was against Tamils...No, no, no! It was against the LTTE terror group. Do you even know that more than half the Tamil people in Sri Lanka live in the Sinhalese dominated south of the country? I'm sure you didn't know that, right? So how come all these Tamils live prosperous lives in Sinhalese areas and don't cry genocide? Surprised? You should be, because you are so miss-informed that you are pathetic!

You damn English Savages

First of all I would like to remind this stupid fool, that your British forces committed acts of terrorism over virtually the entire planet, for the last 400 years. You damn English colonized Ceylon, when there were two separate kingdoms that were in existence from ancient times One tamil and other a Barbarian, Savage race called Singhalese. When you English granted independence to Ceylon in 1948, you idiots granted all political, economic and military power excusively to these Singhalese savages.

A stooge of the terrorists - oh no, you've unmasked me!

Not sure what form of history degree you got yourself, but the one I got involved accepting  that facts actually matter. And the fact is that almost all independent observers of the war in Sri Lanka have acknowledged that the Sri Lankan government forces have committed some horrific atrocities and are responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Tiger terrorist attacks on civilians caused a relatively small number of the 80-100 thousand deaths in this conflict - nowhere near the ridiculous number (40,000) you suggest above .

 

And, by the way, I never said a thing about "genocide" and I'm well aware of the number of Tamils living in the south (those who actually read this entire piece know that I spent three months there a few years back).

 

I'm no apologist for those atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers - and their war crimes are well known. But why anyone who claims to "have nothing to do with this conflict" would want to deny the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military is beyond me. The government death squads, massacres, "disappearances" - these are all well-documented. That the Tigers committed equally horrific - or even worse - war crimes is not disputed (at least not by me), but that the Tigers are "evil terrorists" and the government "innocent victims of terror" is so naive and ignorant it's beyond words.

 

And, speaking of ignorant, you actually think I'm "being paid to write this stuff by the terrorists"? Not sure how much the Tigers would pay me for pointing out their war crimes, but maybe you're right.

 

And maybe the Chechens are paying me too? Because we all know the Russians are innocent and never hurt a soul in Chechnya.

 

And how about the East Timorese "terrorists"? Are they paying me to whitewash their crimes against the innocent Indonesians as well?

 

And the Palestinian "terrorists" too?

 

What about the "terrorists" in Kosovo?

 

So many paymasters, so little time to spend all this money.

 

   Mike Cowie

Thank You

Thank You for your superb article. You are spot on! It is voices like yours that the Government of Sri Lanka has been trying to suppress for so long, and has been pretty successful over the last few months. Please don't stop now! The truth needs to be told many more times than the lie of the Singhalese Governments to be heard. The UN should hang its head in shame for allowing this to happen. Ram

Tamils of Sri Lanka

The problem with foreigners like you writing this article is that you write swallowing all the propaganda that you are fed with. $200 million/month fed by the west through the diaspora is not feeding Tamil Terrorism? Secondly who said that the North and The East is the homeland of the tamils.Check your history. Pl for god sake do not try to pass judgement on affairs that you bearly understand. The problem with westerners is that you are the authority on every thing from morality to history in this world. We in the rest of the world laugh at your hippocrisy and double standards. Although the west has highjacked the discription of your self as the international community the rest of the world laugh at your arragonce. So if you no next to nothing of a conflict Pl shut up. This conflict has cost a lot of lives.

Sri Lanka turns back Tamil aid ship

Sri Lanka seizes ship with supplies for war-hit civilians:

 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090604/wl_sthasia_afp/srilankaunrestshipcivilians


Verdict is in; Government of Sri Lanka wants Tamil civilians dead. Sending aid away while there is not enough milk powder for babies or medical supplies for the injured.. hiding behind paper work when their UK embassy and other officials were notified of the mission..


If they followed Buddhist precepts (they claim Buddhism is their official primary faith), Sri Lanka would not be in such a mess & they would be an Asian economic tiger. The kind of tiger which benefits all!


YouTube video: Mercy Mission ship is "detained" by SL Navy:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4UcKxF7rSY


There won't be peace in Sri Lanka until they have freedom of the press, embrace the federal idea, take steps to reform their military/police Re: ethnic tolerance and allow NGO's access to all the IDP camps.

 

Double Standards?

Free the Tamil people. If you can't understand it then simply the Tamils should be provided with enough military hardware to suppress the Sinhalese so that the Sinhalese can feel what the Tamils have gone through and going through. Read the history of the Empires that ruled the Indian Ocean, mainly the Chola Empire. You think we are fool to believe that some criminal named Vijaya first landed on the Island from North India while the Tamils lived swimming distance to the Island in South India. The way I see it the whole island belongs to the Tamils, they were very unselfish when they only wanted to govern the areas where they are majority and inhabited continuously.

War isn't the solution, turn to TAG [Tamils Against Geneocide]

I lost faith in LTTE when I saw them kill of all voices of opposing view among Tamils. LTTE & GoSL (govt. of Sri Lanka) crimes against Tamils are well documented by UTHR(J), Amnesty International, HRW and other NGO's.

 

Pogroms against Tamils first occurred in 1950's despite Independence of Ceylon Act 1947 protections for Tamils. Sri Lankan govt fails to prosecute those crimes as well as sex crimes committed by their troops in UN Haiti scandal despite promising otherwise.. playing UN politics to get out of mess, relying on UN embarrassment due to the scandal. We want GoSL to give Tamil’s (& everyone) justice & encourage its police/military to do the same. If they followed Buddhist precepts, we would not be in this mess & SL would be an Asian economic “tiger.” The kind of tiger which benefits all!

 

We have to accept that Black July & northern Tamils will look at Praba the same way Apache natives in US look at Geronimo.

 

An Epitaph for Tamil Eelam:

 

http://virtualjudah.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/an-epitaph-for-tamil-eelam