the wounds of the tear-drop nation [Sri Lanka]

I have never known a world without Sri Lanka tearing itself apart in civil war.  I was born in Colombo in 1984 to a Sinhalese family, but I was raised on values that sought nothing but peace between the warring parties.

My father often tells me the story of how he went to the house of his Tamil friend to to collect toys they had to leave behind when they fled (they eventually settled in Canada, and I visited them when I was on exchange in Toronto).   My younger brother’s BFF is a Tamil Sri Lankan he met at his Perth kindergarten after we migrated here (we call the two of them Romeo and Juliet).  The little girl I sponsor through World Vision is Tamil, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know that the actions of the Sri Lankan government has never been perfect (I personally believe they were behind the killing of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga earlier this year), but the news that the Tamil Tigers, the terrorist organisation said to have pioneered the tactic of suicide bombing and had for months kept thousands of the people it claims to be fighting for trapped has human shields, have been defeated by the Sri Lankan military is heartening.

However, some of the events surrounding the escalation and (I hope) end of this war leave me more worried for the future.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the end of the war.  Given the decades of conflict, this is understandable. There has been so much pain; so much loss.  The alleged sectarian violence in Sydney over the weekend is a strong warning that tensions left behind by this decades-old conflict are still hot.

But a lot of the opinions are not helping.

Of particular noteworthiness are the condescending (and hypocritical) opinions from the spokespeople of developed countries who, even a few months ago, acted as if they didn’t know Sri Lanka existed.

The civil war has raged for three decades. The estimates of the casualties are unfathomable to me. But aside from Norway in the early Naughties, most countries have barely batted an eyelid over the (then) ongoing conflict.

Then when things got more newsworthy over the last few months, every next post-colonial hack semed to have something to say.

ABC News reported that British Foreign Minister David Milliband wants greater scrutiny placed on Sri Lanka’s military and its conduct of the war:

“The position of the UK is always that serious and credible reports of war crimes should be investigated,” he said. “Serious and credible allegations have been made against both sides, and they should indeed by investigated.”

And so they should be. But will “serious and credible reports of war crimes” made against the Coalition of the Willing in the War On Terror/Iraq be investigated?

In short: Un-effing-likely.

I’m not saying that this is a Little Red Hen situation — that no one’s bothered to help before, so shut up and put up.  But misinformed drivel that merely repeats age-old and debunked propaganda does nothing more than inflame the ignorance and hurt that has kept this conflict burning for longer than I have been alive.

There is a lot to be done from this point onwards to heal the wounds this conflict has caused Sri Lanka.   But I know there’s so much partisan hurt among so many (particularly diaspora) that I worry the hate won’t go away as quickly as the end of the war came.

But for now, I suppose, I guess I should be happy the war is over.

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight
— John Lennon

4 thoughts on “the wounds of the tear-drop nation [Sri Lanka]

  1. I like what you had to say here Sunili. Being able to step out of the house and not having to worry that you may be the victim of a bus/car/ train/suicide bomb is a great feeling. New type of freedom for many of us who live here in Sri Lanka.

  2. My dearest Duwa, Whatever you may do in future, Iam very proud of you!

    A well written poetic piece. Amma heard me reading it just now and said: “very nice!” Love you, Theruwan Saraane! Thaththa

  3. Glad to find a kindred spirit in you Sinili. Read your piece on ABC today and was quite impressed by the balanced critique.

    I personally do not support an international investigation of the closing battles of Elam War IV – ironically for the same reasons that you seem to support one.

    Let me explain. I think the ‘external’ threat of International intervention perceived by Sri Lankans as an attack on their sovereignty. The Rural masses – which form the support base of the current government and whose son’s and daughters made up the Army ranks – perceive it as a direct threat. External pressure for investigations, only serve to solidify internal popular support for a corrupt and dictatorial regime.

    Most populations hold their armed forces in reverence – no matter how they have behaved in the past. The US engagement in Vietnam was a rare exception where some returning GIs were vilified by their own population, but even that was short lived.

    The common denominator in most drawn out conflicts – whether it is in Sri Lanka, Iraq or Afghanistan – is that the population soon grows weary of war and the cost of war makes it an unpopular choice. However as much as opposition to war increases, every general, foot soldier and military operation that promises to end the war – gains tremendous public support. Sri Lanka passed through the same phases and hailed the end of the war almost with one voice. Hence the generals who won the war are revered heroes to a majority comprising all races – who opposed the war. Sri Lankans also have a sense that the LTTE was funded by the Tamil Diaspora and perceives western nations that let those funds flow in virtually unabated as being complicit. The public opposition and outage against war crimes allegations is reinforced by the fact that it is these same countries that allowed funding for the LTTE to flow in who are now trying to prosecute their war heroes.

    The absence of any competent opposition or inspired political leadership, the narrowing of ‘national identity’ and the resulting contraction of space for liberal and pluralist ideas, are later additions to a historical narrative that has created a sense of insecurity among monolingual Sri Lankans – both Sinhala and Tamil – over many generations.

    The threat of international investigations is actually an extremely dangerous catalyst for reigniting the fires of violence in a population whose majority is already feeling insecure and under stack. That is why I argue that pushing for an international investigation is not only counter productive but a bad idea in its own right.

    Indeed, truth and justice is the need of the hour, and whether we like it or not, they should evolve organically. This is not going to happen over-night in a country that is steel bleeding from the wounds of war, but fortunately, there is still a semblance of a democratic process left – which inspires hope. That is why I believe that the most practical ways of promoting truth, reconciliation and peace in Sri Lanka is by strengthening the democratic institutions of the nation and empowering the people. It is definitely not the easy option… but let’s face it; there is no easy option.

  4. “I personally do not support an international investigation of the closing battles of Elam War IV – ironically for the same reasons that OTHERS seem to support one.”

    Sorry – typo!

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