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Different Certainties

This week Tamil expatriates in Canada and Europe demonstrated vociferously, yet peacefully, on the streets of Toronto and in front of the European Union's headquarters in Brussels and the United Nations in Geneva. The demonstrators placed a cluster of demands before the international community, including recognition that the Tamils are suffering ongoing genocide in Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka, that they are struggling for their inalienable freedoms and that the bans on the LTTE be lifted. As the repeated mass actions in the Diaspora and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu underline, these sentiments are shared by the no longer silent majority of Tamils.
 
The proximate cause for the mass demonstrations is the ongoing massacres of the quarter of a million Tamils in the Mullaitvu district by Sri Lankan military bombardment. Well over two thousand people, including at least seven hundred children, have been killed since January. Though well aware of the bloodletting, the international community has stood by, less concerned with the lives of Tamils than the military destruction of the LTTE. Moreover, as we pointed out recently, the suffering being heaped on our people by the Sinhala military - with the tacit support of the international community - is for one purpose: to make us give up our demand for self-determination and submit to Sinhala hegemony.
 
However, the resolve of the Tamil people - and the LTTE - to resist Sri Lanka's genocidal onslaught is hardening, not weakening. An extraordinary wind of solidarity and outrage is blowing through the global Tamil community. An obvious paradox seems to escape many international observers of the island's protracted conflict: the closer the Sinhala state says it is to destroying the LTTE, the more widespread, open and active Tamil popular support for the Tigers is becoming.
 
International approaches to Sri Lanka in the past few years have centred on defeating the LTTE. In a utopian belief that a harmonious multi-ethnic Sri Lanka is waiting to emerge beneath the bloodsoaked surface, the international community has supported the Sri Lankan state's indiscriminate onslaught into the Tamil-speaking Northeast. In doing so, it has fuelled and the virulent Sinhala supremacy that has infected and shaped the state since independence.
 
In other words, international support for the slaughter in the Northeast turns on the conviction that Tamils and Sinhalese will harmoniously co-exist once the LTTE is defeated. This fiction feeds itself; it is argued, for example, that many Tamils live amongst Sinhalese in the south. What is ignored is that almost a million Tamils have fled the island, and hundreds of thousands of others live in fear in the South, accepting the potentiality of state or communal violence over the certainty of summary killings, 'disappearances', torture and rape in the Northeast.
 
Even amidst the Sinhala military's casual slaughter of starving Tamil civilians in Mullaitivu, this simplistic logic equates the unleashing of a thousand projectiles each day at Tamil civilians with the LTTE's insistence the Tamils do not want to be removed from their home soil and interned in state-run concentration camps - the fate of almost a million other Tamils since the conflict began. 'Both sides', in this logic, are to blame.
 
It seems implausible to many Tamils that amidst the undisguised popularity of President Mahinda Rajapakse's Sinhala supremacist regime and the preparedness of the Sinhala state to openly slaughter Tamils that the international community can still believe a harmonious Sri Lanka is possible. This belief turns on both the international community's naïve faith in the malleability of Third World people's sentiments and an arrogant belief in its own abilities to discipline states like Sri Lanka into being liberal. There is a reason why the views of peoples in 'developing' parts of the world are not taken as seriously as those of people in 'advanced industrial' societies and why the former are accorded less rights than the latter.
 
It is this combination that has convinced the international community that the Tamils' demand for an independent Tamil Eelam is an unnecessary and 'extreme' demand to a problem of 'poverty'. The point therefore is that the Tamils as a whole have to continue to make clear in their lobbying, demonstrations and other political activities why, exactly, they are unable to live with dignity in a Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka: Tamil Eelam is not some whimsical pick from a menu of possible 'solutions' but a recognition that outright independence is the only way to escape genocide and secure the future security and well being of our people. And that is why we cannot and will not compromise.