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

Another one about Sri Lanka: civil war, or genocide? [war]

So Sri Lanka’s been in this big civil war for longer than I’ve been alive.  It’s such a lovely place, but it’s been tormented for so long.

My mum’s gone to Sri Lanka for a my cousin’s wedding.  The last time she was there, there was an air raid on the air force base next to the airport.  My mother was actually on board a plane that was taxiing on the runway at the time.  The time before that, there was that tsunami thing.  Right now, the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels has escalated to some of the worst combat I can remember.

Wow, she gets all the fun stuff, huh?

I was surprised hear that SL was the top breaking news story on news.com.au last night (although it was to do with a Australian UN worker who’s trapped in the war-zone, so I guess it’s not that surprising), because for so long the conflict there has been overshadowed by various other goings-on around the world.  There was an article about that trend on New Matilda late last year.

The UN and Red Cross have claimed that over 250,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in the north and east of the island, but Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has told the BBC that those international organisations have got that wrong:

“I’m not saying they are lying but they are exaggerating,” he said.

He also ruled out any ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, saying it would give the Tigers a chance to reorganise.

“The purpose of this offensive is to eradicate them,” he said.

Hrm.  That seems kind mean, doesn’t it?

Well if it does, then this should make you worry:  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the brother of Mahinda, Sri Lanka’s president; assassinated newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge claimed the president and the government are responsible for his death) is a US citizen who might be getting indicted for genocide and war crimes in the next couple of weeks.

Yeah. Now that’s Dodgy (with a capital D!).

In news via Twitter, constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein has been preparing a 1,000-page model indictment against G Rajapaksa and army commander Sarath Fonseka for allegedly violating Section 1091 of the United States Criminal Code:

The model indictment is scheduled for publication within two weeks and will be presented to the US Congress, the Department of Justice and the State Department.

The lawyer represents Tamils Against Genocide, a non-profit organization based in the United States, whose mission is to obtain US or international indictments against the two US citizens or green card holders currently serving in the government of Sri Lanka for alleged complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, against Sri Lanka’s civilian Tamil population.

Now, Fein is clearly not just some schmuck.  He graduated from Harvard Law School with honours, clerked for a federal judge,  had a bunch of high profile government-law positions and has written for Slate about impeaching Cheney.  I think I like this guy.

The allegations about extrajudicial killings are nothing out of the blue for me.  I’ve heard a bunch of stories about people getting taken away in “white vans” and never returning (and this has happened to both Singhalese and Tamil people) and then there’s the whole war-on-journalism thing.  And Booker Prize-winning author Michael Ondaatje’s 2001 book Anil’s Ghost is the story of an ex-pat Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist who had been sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organised campaigns of murder on the island.  Things over there are seriously messed up.

But what is out of the blue, at least for me, is this allegation from an article about Fein’s indictment (from a site called TamilSydney via TamilNet, so I know it needs to be taken with a grain of salt):

Mr. Fein said that Sri Lanka was a unique nation whose history reveals an ongoing cultural genocide, adding, “the myths of the Mahavamsa say that Sri Lanka belongs to no one but the Sinhalese, and the text celebrates kings for slaughtering Tamils. Secondly, the teachings of Dharmapala, celebrate the purity of the Aryan race and establish the idea of racial supremacy. Because Dharmapala is as sacred to the Sinhalese as Jesus to the Christians, the Sinhalese believe and act with the notion of racial supremacy. This legacy is being continued by Sinhalese Buddhist monks and this legacy is used by Buddhists in classrooms in the South, as an instruction in genocide.”

Um, is this true, you guys? Because if it is, I am jumping on a plane right now to go an smack some people in the head.  What atrocious horrendousness, people? Atrocious. Horrendousness.

I am a Singalese Buddhist but my brother’s BFF is Tamil (how Romeo & Juliet) and, dude, I am not racist or biased just because of the family I was born into.  I want all people to be happy and get along and stuff.  The whole thing has upset me for some time. because it never seems like ending and the people in charge (of both sides) have been arrogant douche-bags (or, if they’ve been alright, have been shot or blown up).

So here’s my stance on this thing: I hate the Tamil Tigers, right — they’re terrorists, they pioneered suicide bombers, they make women and children fight.  But gods-damn, I hate bigotry of any description and war and violence at that, so if those government bastards did get involved in war crimes, I want them to rot. Slowly and painfully.

I don’t know if there’s a solution that doesn’t involve getting all of those bastards in jail first, and then getting decent people to take over and settle this.  But something more has to be done… just don’t know if, during all these economic troubles and Middle East mess and  climate change crises etc etc, if the world has the capacity to deal with this, too.

By the way, a group of Tamil students have started a hunger strike in Sydney’s St Martins Place in an attempt to get the Australian government to take action and they’ve posted YouTube vids of civilian casualties on their blog: http://fastuntoaction.wordpress.com/ (warning: there’s heartwrenching music and horrific images).

Update: The ABC has a news story on the footage, and in good journalistic form, it’s pointed out that the videos haven’t been verified and no one is sure when and where this was taped.

The one about virtually stuyding MIT courses [geekism]

One of the many DVDs I have watched since starting leave was 21 — the film about Kevin Spacey’s team of card-counting brainiacs from MIT who bring down the houses of Vegas at the blackjack tables.  I was lucky enough to be taken to Vegas for my 21st and when I got carded (I always got carded) and they realised it was my actual birthday that very day, people gave me chips.  I promptly lost them to the dealer.

But I’m sure if I had the ability to count cards (or, like, anything numerically higher than 10 fingers), I’m sure I’d have won.  It’s such a shame that I suck at maths and can’t play blackjack and can’t study at MIT.

Or so I thought.  I got sent the awesomest link ever today, and discovered that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes pretty much all of its undergraduate and graduate course materials online, for free, via their OpenCourseWare (OCW) program.

I cannot start to explain how geekishly cool this is.  There are like thousands (guesstimation; I didn’t count, because I’d run out of fingers) of courses available in fields such as architecture, chemistry, politics and nuclear engineering, and you can download readers and lectures that are available (and I repeat: for free) under a Creative Commons license.

Now, they make it very clear that this does not lead to graduation with an MIT degree, but, like, for mega-nerds like myself, the idea of just having this stuff available is tinglifying.

And I am rather tempted to set myself up to study 21W.730-1 Expository Writing: Exploring Social and Ethical Issues through Film and Print and 21W.747-3 Classical Rhetoric and Modern Politics.

I know I totally won’t. But it’s so cool to think I could if I could be bothered 😉

The one about kids bypassing censorship [kudos!]

Again from Crikey‘s Margaret Simons, but this time from her awesome blog, The Content Makers:

An amusing and inspirational story, about how a High School student newspaper in Minnesota avoided censorship by the educational bureaucracy by going online. The local superintendent had refused to allow the paper to be printed after students refused to show him an article about an investigation into a middle-school teacher.

Huh. I wish I’d thought of (or had the time/energy for) putting our little old Quasimodo online back in the day.

But we were too proud to do that — mainly because I’d spent hours and hours slaving in InDesign putting the thing together, even though all the budget threats where mean and horrible, but, also, no one would have read it online back then.  The wi-fi on campus at the time was so shit that a paper magazine was the only useful form of in-lecture procrastination material.