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Wrong Premise

Despite the Sri Lankan government’s insistence it will soon destroy the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), its military onslaught has become mired in a war of attrition in the muddy fields of Vanni. Amid the tub-thumping, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has launched another recruitment drive, is arresting and press-ganging military deserters back into service and has stopped issuing even the sanitised casualty figures it has been issuing. Tabled spending on the war next year is set to outstrip 2008 by a significant margin. Despite its assurances of imminent victory, Colombo is girding for protracted war.

 

Little wonder then that even the staunchest backers of Colombo’s brutal war in the Tamil homeland are wavering. This week the United States’ Ambassador, Robert O’ Blake, insisted that a military solution was not possible. This does not mean, contrary to Mr. Blake’s suggestions, that the US and other allies of the Sinhala supremacist regime would not prefer a military solution. This week the Ambassador, speaking in the now simmering Indian state of Tamil Nadu, urged President Mahinda Rajapakse – yet again - to put forward a ‘political solution’.

 

That “there is no military solution, only a political solution” is a mantra long chanted by the West, even as it armed, financed and trained the Sinhala state to militarily crush Tamil aspirations for self-rule. The duplicity was apparent in Mr. Blake’s elaboration of this position last week. Colombo should put forward a political solution, he said, because this would help defeat the LTTE. Thus a ‘solution’ need not be offered because this is the right and proper thing to do by the long-suffering and persecuted Tamils, but because it would contribute to military victory over the Tigers.

 

Of course this logic comes straight out of the ‘hearts and minds’ section of Western counter-insurgency theory. What is incredible is that despite the evidence all around him of stark ethnic polarisation, of Sinhala hubris and racism, of the impossibility now of a single ‘people’ on the island, the US thinks this is a viable approach, that somehow the latest bunch of Sinhala supremacists running the Sri Lankan state are going to win the support of the Tamil people.

 

The point, as we argued recently, is that the US et al think that as an under-developed and unsophisticated community, what the Tamils actually want, despite using language like ‘national liberation’ and ‘self-rule’, is just economic opportunity and the possibility of using their own language. Which is why we often hear Colombo governments being urged to implement ‘language rights’ and undertake ‘development’ in the Northeast as if these have any bearing on the fundamental contradictions in the island’s politics.

 

The theories of ‘internal conflict’ in the ‘developing’ world – including ‘poverty causes conflict’, ‘greed over grievance’, and so on – are incapable of taking seriously the Tamils’ long-asserted argument that we are an oppressed people seeking self-rule. But these bankrupt theories have underpinned Western policy towards places like Sri Lanka. Colombo has – without much difficulty – exploited this contempt for ‘Third World’ peoples to secure Western involvement in its onslaught against the Tamils. In the post Cold War era, Sinhala governments have exploited the logics of ‘fighting terrorism’, ‘defending democracy’, ‘promoting pluralism’, and so on whilst at the same time continuing a slow genocide, starving, bombing, abducting and murdering the island’s Tamils.

 

In the past two years, amid growing confidence that the LTTE was being defeated, both the Sinhalese and the international community have dropped their pretence. For example, the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) served as a figleaf for both the Sinhalese and the international community to pretend a political solution was valuable while the murderous military campaign against the Tamils was pressed home, but when the offensive on Vanni began this time last year, even this was dropped.

 

Ironically, it is precisely the West’s undisguised contempt for Tamils, their political aspirations and their suffering under the Sinhala jackboot that has done most to consolidate Tamil support for the LTTE and fuelled the demands for Eelam. On what basis, by the way, do the US et al expect the Tamils to live in Sri Lanka? On the terms set out by the Army chief and Sinhala ideologues – i.e. as interlopers who may remain provided they know their subordinate place? In the past three years the Tamils have been both internationally isolated and targeted by the full might of the Sinhala state as never before. It is as a consequence of these dynamics that Tamils are uniting behind their liberation struggle as never before. The present conflict is thus turning into an orthodox race war. On the one side is the Sinhala state, deploying a Sinhala Army and supported by the Sinhala people. On the other are the Tamils and the LTTE.

 

It is this grim reality that has resulted in such vigorous agitation in Tamil Nadu. Various analyses have sought to explain the events in South India in terms of pre-election strategies and a lack of serious local issues for political contestation, for example, or even as ‘resurgence’ in India of buried Tamil ethno-nationalism (as those fluent in the conceptual terminology of Western liberalism have rushed to term it). What is clear is that a huge number of people in Tamil Nadu are genuinely moved by the suffering the Eelam Tamils are enduring at the hands of the Sinhala state and its international allies. The more colourful of Tamil Nadu’s politicos are even suggesting that the Eelam issue is revealing a contradiction between ‘Tamil’ and ‘Indian’ identities, given Delhi’s support for the Sinhalese.

 

The point here is that even as our enemies step up their efforts to annihilate us, the Eelam Tamils’ liberation struggle is drawing new support, both moral and tangible, from Tamils around the world (India is not the only country where the Eelam cause is vigorously being taken up). The ‘with us or against us’ gauntlet of the Global War on Terror has fed neatly into the Sinhala hegemonic project, but now has produced a specific irrevocable dynamic of racial polarisation in Sri Lanka. Tamils and Sinhalese can no more be expected to live peaceably together than the various peoples of the Balkans. This is not about ancient hatreds – despite the rhetoric of the supremacists running Sri Lanka (and the present lot are no different to those in 1956, 1972, 1978, 1983 and 1995) – but the clear and present danger to the wellbeing and safety of the Tamil people posed by the Sinhalese.

 

Mr. Blake’s call last week for the Rajapakse regime to come up with a solution is so disconnected from the island’s lived reality that it says less about Colombo’s intransigence than the international community’s apathy in the face of the humanitarian crisis that has impelled the Diaspora and Tamil Nadu to such outrage. As such, Mr. Blake’s comments couldn’t have come at a better time for the LTTE.