Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

Back to the Future

Sri Lanka banned the LTTE this week. The United States endorsed the move in a statement making explicit its implicit stance for the past few years: "[the US] does not advocate the government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a terrorist organization." The subplot is that the war to crush the Tamil rebellion against Sinhala oppression will soon be won. This very much remains to be seen - though we can confidently repeat our assertion that the Sinhala state will continue to reproduce the existential conditions that compelled Tamils to violence in the first place.
 
Amidst the myriad aspects of reality that analysts could focus on, it is the map of 'controlled areas' that has curiously come to dominate. Reducing the territory the LTTE controls, it is held, equates to putting down the Tamil struggle for freedom. The capture last week of Kilino-chchi, the former administrative capital of the LTTE, is thus hailed as a watershed in the conflict. This logic is even reflected in commentary by Sri Lanka's political analysts, in whose columns can be found more emphatic military-related assertions than practiced security scholars would dare pin their names to.
 
In the meantime, crucial changes in   the island’s ethno-political imbroglio, whilst in plain sight, are simply ignored. Indeed, Sri Lanka's future is well signposted for those who care to look. A virulent form of Sinhala chauvinism is now all-pervasive, from the corridors of state power to public streets and chatrooms on the Internet. Rarely in the past, with the exception of the state-backed pogrom of 1983, has the sense of alienation been so acute amongst Tamils. The Muslims, meanwhile, are also waking up to their place in Dutugemunu's realm. What was being described as ethnic 'polarization' a couple of years ago is fast turning into commonsense. Ethnic enmity is now the very fabric of Sri Lanka's social ordering. And no amount of international funding for 'ethnic reconciliation' or 'peace building' is going to change this.
 
This has nothing to do with the effects of conflict - the violence has, especially in recent years been confined largely to the Northeast and the deprivations of displacement, 'disappearance' and death have been borne overwhelmingly by Tamil-speakers, if not Tamils. Rather, the present is the result of the sixty-year-old Sinhala project to align state, army and citizenry towards a majoritarian vision of the island. This, by the way, is the 'solution' acceptable to the Sinhalese.
 
Amidst all this the impotence of global liberalism is plain to see. Not that its international proponents recognize this. There is still a belief, for example, that the Sinhala nation gives a damn what the West thinks or says about human rights, democracy, pluralism, tolerance and such like. (Unsurprisingly, the former foot soldiers of global liberalism in Colombo have now either found accommodation with Sinhala chauvinism or, in the case of those who were too far in front of the Norwegian peace initiative, have been reduced to despondency and lament).
 
For a very long time the international community has been seeing a very different problem to that which exists in Sri Lanka. In trying to solve the former, they have systematically and drastically fuelled the latter. Amid a preoccupation with developmental metrics and civil society, they have failed to see the plain reasons why, when flag waving Sinhala expatriates took to the streets in Canada, Tamil refugees in India despaired when Kilinochchi 'fell'.
 
The 'concerns', in international parlance, of Tamils and Sinhalese cannot be met within a united Sri Lanka. This is not a question of Tamils' 'trust' in the state or Sinhalese' 'fears' about the country being divided. Rather, it is about what ‘the Tamils’ are. To the Sinhalese, they are the legacy of past invasions who must adhere to their proper (subordinate) place in a Sinhala land. The Tamils see themselves as a collective equal to its Sinhala counterpart, with just as much right to their homeland in the Northeast as the Sinhalese have to theirs in the South. No amount of constitutional 'capacity building', 'conflict sensitive' aid or 'security sector reform' will bridge this divide.
 
In short, Sinhala chauvinism, emboldened by befuddled international actions, is going to pursue the genocidal reordering of territory, population and security called for by the Mahavamsa. The Tamils, meanwhile, will not go quietly into the night. In past decades they've engaged in some capacity building of their own. As Colombo again bans the LTTE and the Sinhala army once again seeks to put down the Tamil rebellion, there appears to be a return to the past. At the same time, as a racial polarization between Sinhalese and others becomes concrete and commonsense, the future is already here.